High Street, Frat Row

Frat row on North High Street on Sept. 12, 2020.

 

Another day, another fraternity suspended at West Virginia University.

WVU’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter was suspended last Tuesday over reported hazing incidents just as students entered their third week of classes, and university officials echoed the same lackluster response as usual. 

“Any allegations like these serve as a reminder that we must redouble our commitment with members of fraternities and sororities on our campus to set a good example and to follow the rules established for the safety of all of our chapters and their members,” said Matthew Richardson, director of the Center for Fraternal Values and Leadership and chair of WVU’s Hazing Prevention Task Force.

Although Richardson and other officials repeatedly say they are ensuring a safe environment for all chapters and their members, hazing continues to be a problem.

In addition to educating students about the dangers of hazing, universities and national organizations overseeing fraternities should reevaluate both the policies and traditions that inhibit hazing in the first place, such as pledging.

In 2018, WVU launched its Hazing Prevention Task Force, which Richardson said would help “eliminate hazing in every setting possible.”

Since 2015, five fraternities have disaffiliated from WVU for “ongoing conduct-related issues,” according to Richardson. Four of those are active with their national headquarters off campus.

During that time, Phi Sigma Alpha, Sigma Chi and Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) each had at least one hazing incident where a member was found responsible, as noted in documents from a WVU Greek Life committee meeting in 2019. Pike was just recently reinstated to the university.

Last spring, Delta Chi was suspended for reported hazing as well. While it’s unclear what happened, the hazing incident was serious enough to prompt both the university and Delta Chi’s international headquarters to revoke the local chapter’s accreditation.

Following the suspension, Richardson said, “When a chapter or member falls short of our expectations and the rules, we want to do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

But it did happen again. And what’s stopping it from happening in the future?

At this time, the University has not proposed any concrete policy changes. Instead, school officials have reaffirmed their commitment to the already established hazing prevention program, which aims to “increase an active awareness and understanding of hazing.”

Although WVU ensures students know the definition of hazing, educating people can only do so much. Likewise, punitive measures have done little to deter hazing in light of incidents in recent years.

Most states, including West Virginia, have anti-hazing laws. WVU, which falls under state law, prohibits all forms of hazing.

Still, hazing is a misdemeanor charge in the state, and WVU’s student code is rather unspecific, plainly saying students would be “subject to discipline.” 

Hazing can often cause physical and mental trauma and, in extreme cases, even death. 

The death of freshman Nolan Burch is one of the most unforgettable examples of the extreme dangers of hazing. Burch died during a fraternity-related pledging event in 2014.  

Since then, Burch’s death sparked an awareness of hazing on a state and national level. A year later, the university introduced its medical amnesty policy, which encourages students to call for emergency medical assistance for other students without fear of punishment.

Fortunately, there have been no other deaths related to hazing at WVU since then.

Although Burch’s death sparked a conversation about hazing on campus, WVU should adopt firmer preventative measures for hazing.

But this isn’t just a problem at WVU. More universities and national headquarters must take action to combat hazing at its core. 

This responsibility also falls on students.

An effective first step to do so is to reevaluate the pledging process and what is required for students to join.

Although organizations are made well aware of WVU’s anti-hazing policies, the culture of pledging itself creates an environment that fosters a power imbalance at the expense of prospective members. In some cases, this leads to hazing.

The concept of an initiation process can potentially be exploited, and easily impressionable young people will often do anything to fit in.

Rather, we believe some of the traditions practiced by some fraternities at WVU, such as pledging, should be reexamined to prevent future mental and physical harm to other students due to hazing.