Sigma Chi Omega Suspended for Hazing

University Must Be Proactive About Investigations

By Editorial
On March 24, 2003

The suspension of the UB chapter of Sigma Chi Omega, the featured fraternity on the MTV reality series "Fraternity Life," has brought to light questions about the university's handling of Greek life on campus.

The suspension was implemented shortly after the airing of the third episode, where fraternity brothers were seen forcing the pledges to do pushups and where the brothers reprimanded the pledges for not attending mandatory library hours. The scenes shown depict the stereotypical view of pledging - minor sacrifices to prove loyalty. While the fraternity members have said they do not believe the actions for which they are being punished warrant suspension, they were well aware that their actions would be televised and were also well informed of the university's policy. Our concern is that it should not have taken a reality television series to tip off the supervisory organizations at UB.

The suspension of the fraternity is justified by the risk management guidelines set by the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group and accepted by the University at Buffalo. Every fraternity and sorority at UB is required to adhere these guidelines, which govern situations involving alcoholic consumption and hazing. The group defines hazing as "Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premise, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule." Some of the hazing fell under categories such as "creation of excessive fatigue" and "morally degrading and humiliating activities," which offered sufficient reason for the university to take disciplinary action against the fraternity.

No one forces students into the Greek lifestyle, and those who pledge know what they are getting into. The Sigma Chi Omega pledges did not charge the fraternity with hazing. If a student pledging a Greek organization feels they are being too harshly hazed or pressured, it is his or her responsibility to leave. In previous editorials, we have expressed a wish for students to take responsibility for their own actions, and this holds equally true here. It is the pledge's responsibility as much as the university's to ensure that hazing does not negatively affect his or her life.

It lies with the pledges and the university to detect and discipline fraternities or sororities who endanger their pledges, for the good of the university and the Greek system. If an organization is doing something wrong, it needs to be disciplined. Nevertheless, The Spectrum must question the methods used in this case to detect possible hazing violations. The hazing that was seen on "Fraternity Life" may not have had fatal repercussions on the pledges, and without MTV, UB would never have known it occurred.

Rather than expending all their energy strictly adhering to the definition of hazing as set by the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group, the administration should allow flexibility depending on the severity of hazing techniques instead of cracking down on the minor offenders. It is our hope that the investigation into Sigma Chi Omega's alleged hazing takes into account that the fraternity's actions included mandatory study time; the pledges were not dropped into a field, forced to eat goldfish or locked in a basement.

At the same time, Sigma Chi Omega must also take responsibility for its actions. While the incidents for which the fraternity was suspended were admittedly minor, they are clearly examples of hazing. The brothers knew they would be under a microscope; they should have been careful not to do anything that could have been construed as hazing.

Ultimately, MTV should not be used as a hazing watchdog for the university. If the administration is concerned about induction rituals of fraternities - rather than its own image in front of the nation - it should be researching and monitoring Greek organizations during the pledging process, not after a television show airs them to the public. In this particular instance, disciplinary action is being pursued nearly half a year after the "crime" took place. If the administration becomes more proactive in its search for hazing, pledges that are in genuine danger during the process will stand less risk of being harmed.

This, however, presents an interesting dilemma for the administration. If the university prosecutes every fraternity for minor infractions related to hazing, organizations may opt to remain off-campus and thus beyond the university's supervision. If the university makes a habit of "bending" the rules for fraternities, the problem of when, exactly, a fraternity or sorority has crossed the line becomes an issue.

It is a precarious balance that the administration must strike to keep students out of danger while promoting Greek life.

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