Scott Irlbacher

I have to admit that as I write this article I’m frustrated. In the wake of the whirlwind that is fraternity and sorority recruitment at Miami University, I’m already winded from discussing appropriate and inappropriate new member education programs with parents. Why so many phone calls, e-mails and conversations? The more I think about it, the more I realize there is a large disconnect between our perception of our society and how things really are. The seasons have changed before our eyes. For most it is the season to finally dress for the weather. For others, it’s hazing season.

Wow I actually put that out there. Hazing. There-I said it. I will be the first to admit that hazing occurs at Miami. It’s unfortunate that hazing still happens in 2009 but more so that some readers just smirked and shifted their attention to another article. I also want to be the first to admit my intention with this article; this is not an awareness piece or a cry for help. This article is a challenge to the entire Miami University family. Students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and community members. In this bicentennial year, let’s come together to eradicate hazing. I probably just lost a few more readers.

The “h-word” is one of those small words with a long definition. It’s cryptic, vague, and ambiguous. Simply put, hazing can be described as any activity that may or may not cause mental or physical harm to a student looking to join an organization. It violates the Miami Code of Student Conduct, Ohio state law and the policies of EVERY fraternity and sorority recognized by Miami. Each has its own individual definition. In other places, individuals have been found guilty of misdemeanor and felony counts of hazing, been suspended and expelled from universities and successfully sued for millions of dollars. So why does it still take place if there is so much to lose? If we can agree that hazing is uncivil and unnecessary-why is it still here?

The simple answer is that some fraternities and sororities are no longer the values-based personal development organizations they were founded to be. Regrettably, sometimes this is painfully evident at Miami. Since 2006, five Miami fraternities and sororities have been suspended for hazing. This is unfortunate but also leads me to believe that it pervades more chapters than simply those five. It is ironic that hazing so frequently is coupled with alcohol because not only are these the two largest issues in the fraternity and sorority world, but they are the most visible examples that our Greek organizations have lost their way. More ironic is that while these groups were founded to uplift individuals, alcohol and hazing slowly tear these individuals down. Such mission shift adds to the argument that these groups are anachronistic and incongruent with the mission of a university.

To best illustrate my point that Greek organizations are so far off mission, they are most likely the ones that have smirked and scoffed at this article. Herein lies my challenge-we must work together to correct the path that some of Miami’s most important organizations are travelling. The path to success is simple: 1) notice hazing, 2) accept responsibility to correct it and 3) take action. Not too bad, eh? If the process were this easy, why hasn’t it been eliminated by now? The most common roadblocks to our eradication goal are denial of the problem, dismissal of hazing as harmless, silence, fear and an ignorant perspective that hazing ‘comes with the territory’ or is ‘part of the experience.’ If hazing were OK, why do the organizations feel the need to have it take place off campus, at night and frequently involve members of other groups to do the actual hazing? The answer is that these individuals know hazing is wrong and are afraid of the ramifications for a public display of physical or mental abuse.

My charge for members of these organizations (initiated and pledging) is to put the past aside and return to the original founding vision of your organizations. Greeks often complain that they are overregulated and not seen with respect. I can guarantee you that an honest end to hazing is a major step in the direction they want. Show some fortitude by making a public pledge that your chapter does not accept hazing. For the non-Greek students: Miami is known for its Greek community, and such a community incongruent with its purpose tarnishes Miami’s name. All students should work together to call into question hazing behavior in our organizations and assist in making every Miami experience, Greek and unaffiliated, a positive one.

My direct challenge lies with everyone: students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents and community members. Help us identify acts of hazing. I’m not calling for a hazing witch hunt, but rather social responsibility in calling out what we see as wrong. Alerting the appropriate personnel to presumed hazing is the first step. Due process can handle the rest. Silence and ignorance only enable hazing. The choice is each of ours-we can act or we can ignore. In this bicentennial year of Mother Miami, let’s eradicate hazing together. What better a bicentennial moment than rebuilding the “Mother of Fraternities” into the “model Greek community?”