Thirty-two percent of Cornell freshmen who joined a fraternity or sorority last semester were hazed as part of their experience joining the organization, according to a study conducted by the University. Additionally, the survey found that 15 percent of students in other campus organizations, including clubs and sports teams, were hazed.
Greek student leaders emphasized that although the 32 percent figure is higher than they would like it to be, it falls substantially below some national figures.
Six-hundred and fifteen members of the Class of 2015 were asked in an online survey if they had been expected to participate, as a condition of joining an organization, in activities that meet the University’s definition of hazing, according to Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives at Gannett Health Services.
The University’s definition of hazing includes actions such as being paddled, kidnapped, screamed at, deprived of sleep or exposed to harsh weather conditions. Mandatory participation in drinking games and being forced to take shots of hard alcohol or eat “unpalatable” foods are also included in the list of activities that constitute hazing, according to Marchell.
Greek leaders said that rather than highlight the Greek system’s shortcomings, the survey results indicate that the Greek system at Cornell is moving in the right direction.
“You need to look at Cornell fraternities versus national fraternities and say we are making progress on curbing this culture,” said Ken Babcock ’13, vice president for judicial affairs for the Interfraternity Council, noting that the percentage of freshmen who reported being hazed at Cornell is substantially lower than national averages. Babcock cited a 2008 study conducted by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention and the University of Maine that found, nationally, 73 percent of students in a fraternity or sorority experienced hazing.
“I think the more significant statistic to look at is the comparison between” Cornell figures and national averages, Babcock said. “We’re looking at frats, which aren’t really comparable to other organizations ... I would never compare a fraternity, which is a social organization bound by students living together, to another organization.”
Alan Workman ’13, IFC Executive vice president, added that the survey results indicate an improvement in the Greek system at Cornell over the last few years.
“We’ve definitely made major strides from where we were a few years ago, but it still shows we have a lot work to do. Below the national average is definitely where we want to be,” he said. “I think [at Cornell] you’re around a group of people who are highly intelligent. They’re acutely aware of the the consequences [of hazing] … The mentality on campus has shifted toward a cautionary one which is a good place for it to be.”
Additionally, Workman said the IFC wants to reduce the number of members being hazed.
“Thirty-two percent is higher than where we want to be,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t include the high-risk hazing ... I hope that people are aware of the consequences of the high-risk hazing.”
Still, the results of the study show that hazing is an issue that the University must continue to address, Marchell added.
“It means that hazing is present on our campus, and knowing what we know about the impact hazing can cause psychologically and physically, we have a public health challenge that we need to continue to address,” he said.
Students who reported being invoved in acts defined as hazing were less likely to consider those acts to be hazing, according to the survey results.
“Some people who experience an activity that clearly meets the definition of hazing do not themselves use the word ‘hazing’ to describe it,” Marchell said. “Some do not label what they experienced as hazing because they don’t understand what qualifies as hazing. Others believe that it can’t be considered hazing if they didn’t refuse to do it. But the University policy says that activities that can be physically or emotionally harmful are hazing, regardless of the person’s ‘consent’ to participate.”
Machell added that physical force is not necessary for the classification of an activity as hazing. Peer pressure or alcohol can also be used to coerce someone into taking part in unwanted activities, he said.
“Too often, in hazing situations, we hear: ‘People were free not to do it. No one was forced.’ And that statement reflects, in many cases, a lack of understanding of the forms that force can take,” he said.
The study also asked freshmen whether they consider hazing an acceptable practice and whether they thought their peers found it acceptable.
“What we found was that a clear majority — 86 percent — of the students in the sample believe that it is never okay to humiliate or intimidate other people as part of joining a group or organization,” Marchell said. “But they weren’t so sure that others believed those types of activities were unacceptable.”
The administration will use the survey results to examine its education and policies concerning hazing, Marchell said.
“We are going to continue [to] expand our educational efforts around hazing,” he said. “The data will inform, in particular, the initiatives that are being developed in response to the president’s charge to ‘end pledging as we know it.’”