Hazing has become the subject of national conversation this week, in light of recent incidents across the country.
Last week, twelve members of the marching band at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) were charged with manslaughter for a hazing incident in which a drum major was beat to death as part of an initiation ritual.
That incident has had a wide-reaching impact, even stretching across the country to influence Cal Poly’s own hazing policies.
“That group had a very structured tradition of physical abuse in order to gain membership into the band,” Cal Poly Director of Student Life and Leadership Stephan Lamb said. “The first thing I would say is that I think hazing can exist across a wide variety of groups that we might not immediately think about.”
Cal Poly has had its own recent incident — this past week, it was revealed that multicultural sorority Chi Delta Theta was under investigation for reports of hazing. The investigation is still ongoing, and according to Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities Adrienne Miller, who is organizing the investigation, there is no end in sight.
“I don’t have any updates at this time and my work is confidential, so I wouldn’t be able to give any if I could,” Miller said.
She confirmed there is currently no time frame set as to when the investigation will be completed.
Miller said once she has enough information, she will meet with Student Life and Leadership to discuss the next steps.
“It’s the same process as with any allegation of a Title 5 violation,” Miller said. “I conduct an investigation and I’m also conducting the investigation on behalf of Student Life and Leadership.”
Lamb said he has not yet heard from Miller and the others involved in the investigation.
“I still have not talked to Adrienne Miller, who is the person who is doing the investigation,” Lamb said. “She typically assists us by going through interviews, and she’ll interview all of the new members and she may interview all of the actives, it really depends on what the allegations are.”
Chi Delta Theta president Precilla Tang was unable to comment.
Lamb said hazing is something Student Life and Leadership takes very seriously, with repercussions up to shutting down whatever organization incurred the hazing.
“We have zero tolerance of hazing,” Lamb said. “If we become aware of any activities that we believe are putting our students in harms way, either physically or mentally, we will immediately move to launching an investigation, to putting that organization on suspension.”
Though Cal Poly’s most prolific hazing incident — the case of Carson Starkey’s death from alcohol poisoning after a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledging event — occurred nearly five years ago, Lamb said incidents such as Starkey’s death show just how important it is that Student Life and Leadership shows zero tolerance for harmful hazing activities.
“I think there’s a lot of different kinds of hazing: there’s the forced alcohol usage obviously that we saw in the (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) incident here, but there’s also forms of hazing that are more emotional, that are emotionally targeted and mental-cruelty targeted,” Lamb said. “It’s an abuse of power, and people within the organization believing that they have control over the members who want to seek admittance into that organization. They will sometimes create things that are lethal or things that are just abusive.”
Lesser instances of hazing have taken many forms with varying degrees of harm. Hazing in its less serious forms can range from forcing new members of a group to complete various physical activities to “mandatory study hours,” a task Lamb classified as questionable, simply because of its forced nature.
“We’ve had forced study hours and you can argue whether that’s good or bad, but that’s been one of the requirements,” Lamb said. “We’d find out exactly what is being expected of the new members and we would talk to the new member educator and challenge them, and ask what they are doing, but more importantly why they are doing it. Very commonly they’ll say ‘Well, we’re trying to build bonds.’”
Lamb said the concept of hazing goes back to military roots, and some of its psychology may have stemmed from soldiers coming home after war and implementing boot camp tactics into mundane organizations.
“Boot camp is all about tearing somebody down and building them up, and building them up as a group,” Lamb said. “That concept is what you see in different organizations.”
According to Lamb, Cal Poly currently has the tools necessary to deal with hazing, making sure it can be easily reported without fear of retaliation. The method that is currently used is an email hotline that goes to the University Police Department (UPD) where students can send an anonymous tip regarding hazing or any other suspicious activity. If UPD feels the claim is sufficient, it will contact Student Life and Leadership.
“There is an anonymous tipping system currently on the University Police webpage, and we have responded to concerns that have been forwarded to us by University Police,” Lamb said. “I believe that’s an appropriate place to house that hotline.”
Interfraternity Council President Jason Colombini said he is currently working on another resource for new members who feel they are victims of hazing.
“Basically, the proposal is that there’d be a phone in the greek life office, and not just for fraternities but for all greek life, and I guess for any organization,” Colombini said. “It would just go straight to voicemail and it would just ask for any information you feel necessary or are willing to report and from there we would investigate it.”
This concept of a hazing hotline is still in the early stages — Colombini said he sent his proposal to Lamb on Monday and is waiting to take the next steps.
“It’s in the early, early stages, but hopefully it would just be another preventative tool that people will utilize if they need to,” Colombini said. “And hopefully they never need to.”
Colombini said hazing prevention is his personal pursuit as IFC president — he was recently awarded the National Anti-Hazing Hero Award by HazingPrevention.org.
“Hazing is, I think, just the absolute worst thing you can do to someone,” Colombini said.
Lamb stressed hazing is not an activity present only in greek organizations; rather, it has existed in many organizations for a long time. He did, however, say fraternities are one of the most frequently cited organizations responsible for hazing, along with sports clubs.
“The groups that are most often identified are sports clubs and fraternities,” Lamb said. “Really, I think it’s a wide range of groups that could fall under that rubric of hazing.”
Colombini said this widespread nature of hazing is part of why it is so important to have resources for new members of any organization to report any incidents where they feel degraded for the sake of conformity.
“We’ve come leaps and strides in the past years, and it’s always about how we can make ourselves better,” Colombini said.
Lamb said the hazing issue is one that is hard to completely eliminate, but Student Life and Leadership is tackling the issue head-on.
“I do believe that there’s still hoops that organizations may make new members go through that may or may not be productive,” Lamb said. “It’s about the peer pressure to conformity issue, and about when that crosses the line.”