By EVELYN TAYLOR-MCGREGOR ’16
Until recently, Wellesley did not have an official written hazing policy. Currently, the college website includes a section that only details a Massachusetts law on hazing.
Meg Jordan, the associate director of the office of student involvement, proposed that she and a committee develop a hazing policy last fall, after attending a conference about hazing. Jordan cites hearing about another college that was under fire for poorly handling a serious case of hazing in part due to its lack of a hazing policy as the reason she suggested drafting a policy.
Jordan created the Hazing Policy Committee which includes two student representatives and met on a regular basis starting in fall 2013. The committee reviewed hazing policies at other colleges and spoke with focus groups. To structure the hazing policy, the committee referred to the honor code and other policies, such as the alcohol and drug policies. The first draft was finished this February. The draft was taken back to the focus groups and sent to Dean of Students Debra DeMeis for feedback. Additionally, the committee presented the draft to the Honor Code Council on April 30 and to Senate on May 5.
The hazing policy is still in draft form and has yet to be reviewed by the college’s legal council. Once approved, the policy will take effect next fall.
One such question reads, “Would you have reservations describing the activity to a college official?” Another question asks, “Would you be worried if the activity appeared in the evening news or in the newspaper?”
The policy gives examples of types of behavior that could be considered hazing if a student perceived the action as such. The underlying theme is that any initiation practice that is rooted in power dynamics is hazing.
In addition to activities that are widely considered to be hazing, such as those that have the potential to cause injury or include coercive drinking, the policy includes several other activities not explicitly included in the Massachusetts hazing law.
The policy states that encouraging the “wearing of apparel that is conspicuous,” “encouraging or expecting the carrying of items by an individual that have no immediate personal utility” and “activities that cause psychological stress, including, but not limited to, any deception designed to convince a student that he/she will not be initiated, will be removed, or will be injured during any activity” are all examples of common hazing practices.
Part of the Massachusetts law states that consent of victims is not a viable defense. In other words, even if a student claims to have consented to any activities that fall under the definition of hazing, they are still considered a victim of hazing under the law. Jordan reiterates that the law is part of the new hazing policy and falls under “respect for governing laws and college policies.”
“In the state of Massachusetts, you cannot consent to be hazed,” Jordan said. “All hazing is a power dynamic.”
The committee purposefully wrote the policy to be unspecific so it can be interpreted and applied to a variety of cases. Accordinging to Jordan, specificity would hinder the honor code council when dealing with hazing cases and potentially give students loopholes to the policy.
“I see [specificity] actually as being a detriment because we will never be able to list every single thing under the sun that someone could think of to do that is hazing,” Jordan said.
Katherine Tran ’15, the newly elected Chief Justice, who met the hazing policy committee with the Honor Code Council on April 30 echoes Jordan’s statement. Tran believes that the policy should act as a guideline to the principles of the honor code, but students should ultimately be held responsible for knowing what is acceptable and what is not.
“We’re not in the business of saying that the honor code permits you to do this and it completely disallows you to do this,” Tran said. “It’s not about granting permission to behave a certain way. We trust people to make the right decisions and to really think about their actions.”
In addition to the policy, Jordan and the office of student involvement will develop a hazing education website over the summer to be introduced at the same time as the hazing policy. The purpose of the website is to prevent hazing before it happens.
Tran believes that having a policy and stating clearly what is considered hazing will help prevent hazing in the future.
“If people realize that the honor code does apply in this situation and so if we can prevent these things from happening, that’s just as helpful as deciding whether or not something is an honor code violation,” Tran said.
Jordan and the hazing policy committee presented to the honor code council to get feedback on whether or not the council would find the policy useful when dealing with future honor code hearings about hazing.
The process for filing a hazing policy violation is similar to filing an honor code violation. Students can bring an allegation to the Honor Code Council, which will then review the case and decide whether or not to take the case to a hearing. In the past, all hazing policy violations brought to the Honor Code Council have been dismissed without charges.
Sophia Vale ’17, a senator who was present during Jordan’s presentation at Senate, believes that students will still be apprehensive about reporting hazing.
“There is no ‘Good Samaritan’ policy when it comes to the hazing policy, which is kind of sad,” Vale stated. “If you were in a group and obviously felt pressured to do something and then later if you wanted to report it, you could get in trouble as well.”
The student or group against which an honor code violation is filed is notified, even if the case doesn’t go to a hearing, and the same applies for hazing policy violations.
During Jordan’s presentation at Senate this Monday, several senators raised concerns about confidentiality. The new policy does not change the process by which hazing policy violations are reported, and senators were concerned students who have been hazed will still be unlikely to report their experiences. Although the policy lists a wide range of activities that could be considered hazing, each reported violation is evaluated by the Honor Code Council on a case-by-case basis. Because the policy does not specify sanctions, it is unclear from the policy whether an allegation will ultimately result in a consequence for the offending party. According to Jordan, the result of hearings will depend on each case.
“This is where it is subjective,” Jordan explained. “It’s going to depend on how people present their cases.”
The policy also includes several resources for students who want to talk about an experience with hazing before deciding whether or not to report it.
Section 17 of the Massachusetts law, which serves as the College’s current hazing policy, defines hazing as follows: “The definition of ‘hazing’ is … any conduct or methods of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person. Such conduct shall include whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to weather, forced consumption of food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of any such person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.”
Wellesley’s hazing policy is based on four community standards derived from the honor code: “compliance with governing law and college policies, respect for this community through the prevention/zero tolerance of hazing, care for one’s own health and well-being and the seeking of assistance for self or others.”
In the section about prevention and zero tolerance, the draft provides a Wellesley-specific definition of hazing. The policy adds to this definition by addressing the effects of hazing and the subtleties of determining what exactly constitutes hazing.
“Where a given activity falls on the continuum is not simply a function of what the act looks like to an observer. That’s because hazing impacts people differently. Therefore hazing is not defined by the activity but by the impact on the recipient,” the draft of the policy reads.
The draft later poses seven questions to the reader to help determine whether a certain activity is hazing. The questions are meant to compel students to assess their own actions and evaluate situations themselves.