January 24, 2013

LETTER: End Hazing

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To the Editor:

Re: “Editorial: Changing Frat Culture, Beyond the Punishment,” Opinion, Jan. 22

Hazing, which has existed at our Alma Mater for well over a century, is on the decline. Its practice has varied ; its prevalence has shifted between affinities.  Remnants linger. Our goal is to end what remains of hazing, and keep it off the Hill.

Fraternities have definitely hazed; sororities have hazed; athletic teams have hazed. I even chatted with Sun “compets” two years ago while eating lunch at Rulloffs. They were on a scavenger hunt; yes, that could be hazing under some interpretations of New York State Law and University rule and regulation.

I do not reference hazing across the Hill to rationalize its existence in fraternities; its presence across Cornell life simply reminds us that the elimination of hazing is a campus constant. Just as with other cures for health hazards — hazards like tobacco and alcohol abuse — anti-hazing is a continuous effort by University students, alumni and administrators, alike. Kill hazing off, it will come back.

I was hazed at Cornell, first in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Candidate Program (NROTC). Awkwardly, my father was the Commanding Officer when that occurred in the Fall of 1983. The hazing continued in the Fleet; by the mid-1990s, Pentagon-directed reforms were removing those vestiges of the Second World War and before. Professional hazing is not limited to the military; many now consider the former treatment of medical residents as a particularly dangerous form of hazing, for resident and patient alike.

The Cornell “march of the Classes” had its own forms of what would now probably be hazing candidates. The Freshman Writing Seminar in which the learned Professor of History gave me 9 “D’s” on 9 of my 10 papers, and then an “A” in the class, was hazing. That system left a lot of carnage in its wake. We’ve grown beyond that way of thinking at Cornell.

My current position as Director of Whistleblowing & Transparency for the U.S. Department of Defense requires me to assess, in part, when our own federal government may be conducting what would be hazing of employees to force conformity and thereby prevent disclosure of wrongdoing to the Congress and American people.  In corporations, we look at ‘mobbing’ of employees in a new light.  It is a particularly savage form of hazing.

Hazing is endemic to American forms of authority; it is also wrong and it is not the Cornell way.

In my own fraternity, hazing was on the decline in the 1980s. Gen X, for the most part, had little tolerance for the practice. Hazing was costing Cornell fraternities members by the late 1980s. The market was driving the practice out. A series of really tragic events at Ithaca College seared us all.

The Cornell University Alumni Interfraternity Council (CUAIFC) is engaged with the University to end hazing. As a member of the Fraternity and Sorority Advisory Council  (FSAC), I have watched President David Skorton’s leadership take hold and move University administrators, students and volunteers into action. There are three actions I am promoting to end this cycle of abuse.

First, Cornell fraternities – some of the Hill’s oldest institutions, its first affinities in Cornell time – need to end hazing, themselves. This will not end the ‘outlier progression’, namely freelancing activities by members at the margins of fraternity life.  But it can shut down fuel from our institutional core, the Houses. To do this, Associate Dean Apgar’s path-breaking anticipatory review of new member programs over the Winter Break was joined by the house corporations, alumni associations and their Nationals.

Second, I have asked the University for a definitive, proactive statement to the Cornell men that the particular and specific combination of ‘hazing with alcohol’ will result in a mandatory suspension of the adjudged individuals for a designated time period.  That line in the sand must be clear.

Finally, I now direct a request to the Cornell men joining fraternities this month, my newest brothers: guys, vote with your feet.

If you are being hazed, walk away. Thinking over my academic and professional experience of the past thirty years, I can say that only one institution – the Ithaca High Football team – did not haze me. That was due, in part, to the inspiring leadership of Coach ‘Papa’ Joe Moresco who died last November. But after leaving Ithaca High, I found myself distancing – but not walking away from – hazing when I have witnessed the practice. If we want to preserve brotherhood, we must send the message that it is wrong.

These three measures will move us toward what our Alma Mater should be: an exemplar of the Cornell Era to the world, a standard for what is modern and right in its application, as freedom and responsibility are cultured as common values.

Dan Meyer ’87, President, Cornell University Alumni Interfraternity Council