Picture this: It’s nearing the end of fall semester. A dozen or so freshmen are pledging Oozma Kappa and nearing their initiation. It’s what the fraternity calls “hell week,” and it comes with its own set of rules.
First of all, the pledge class must walk closely together, with no gaps in the line — and they know better than to get caught walking on the grass. They can’t use their cell phones during the day. Pledges are expected to open doors for women at every opportunity.
Obligations are scheduled from 6:45 a.m to 10 p.m., so the pledges normally get just four or six hours of sleep each night by the time it’s all said and done. They must report to breakfast at the fraternity house each morning.
And if the pledges don’t follow the rules set for them? Consequences vary from writing long essays about following the rules to pulling weeds. If the pledges were late to breakfast, the next day’s wake-up time was even earlier.
For reference, here’s how Pennsylvania law defines hazing. The bolded language reflects the experience described above.
Any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education. The term shall include, but not be limited to, any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug or other substance, or any other forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual, and shall include any activity which would subject the individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual, or any willful destruction or removal of public or private property. For purposes of this definition, any activity as described in this definition upon which the initiation or admission into or affiliation with or continued membership in an organization is directly or indirectly conditioned shall be presumed to be “forced” activity, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.
Penn State pledged to crack down on hazing after student Tim Piazza died in February from injuries he sustained during a night of alcohol-fueled hazing. The university has a zero tolerance hazing policy, and six Penn State fraternities are currently suspended for hazing.
So why hasn’t this fraternity been suspended yet, if its hazing activities are so well-documented? This is textbook definition hazing by the fraternity in question.
Except it’s not a frat at all. It’s a university-sponsored honors program.
The DAILY Collegian published an article Thursday describing the experience of Penn State’s Millennium Scholars during their six-week “Summer Bridge” experience leading up to the first semester of freshman year.
Here’s how the Millennium Scholars website describes the six-week Summer Bridge experience:
- begin their academic careers and build relationships within their cohort that will benefit them throughout their time at Penn State and beyond
- take rigorous foundational courses and seminars in math, professional communication skills, chemistry, and engineering
- receive and introduction to research at Penn State
- learn important life skills, including time management, problem-solving, and smart study habits; and
- participate in team-building exercises, community service opportunities, social events, and field trips to national labs, museums, and industrial partners
- participate in Penn State’s renowned World in Conversation project, which gives students the opportunity to have important social and cultural conversations
But students involved in the program tell a different story. There’s a catch to being a part of the program and to receiving the full-ride tuition that comes along with it.
“Someone is testing you all the time, so it definitely was a toll on my mental health,” Patricia De Tomás-Medina told The DAILY Collegian. Other students interviewed said they neared their breaking points numerous times throughout the program.
It’s inconceivable that this type of program is tolerated, and even lauded, on Penn State’s campus, and the parallels to the Greek life hazing that’s been uncovered this year on campuses nationwide are uncanny.
Georjanne Williams, the interim director of the Millennium Scholars program, told The DAILY Collegian the purpose of the Summer Bridge is to build “camaraderie and interdependence” among the students involved, so they know they can rely on their peers “for social, academic, and emotional support.”
At its core, the purpose of hazing is to build conformity and loyalty within a group. A study published earlier this year shows sharing painful experiences creates a sense of instinctive bonding for those involved. It’s absurd.
No students should be subjected to this sort of regiment, and the notion that this type of program is necessary to become a disciplined scholar is frankly just wrong. Hazing affecting mental health is just as grave as hazing affecting physical health.
As Greek life across the country is damned for its widespread hazing activities, we must remember these exploits are not limited to those with letters on their chests or numbers on their jerseys.
Hazing is unacceptable, no matter the form, and we can’t continue to look the other way.