Over two weeks ago, a student life administration team received a video showing new Alpha Sigma Tau sorority members being told by a nonmember to do pushups. It was submitted under concerns that the members were being hazed.
The team, including Dean of Students Gary Roberts, Associate Dean of Student Life Wendy Holbrook and Assistant Directors of Student Life Lindsey Shurley and Dustin Hargis, concluded that the occurrence “did not rise to the level of hazing” after undergoing an investigation process and interviewing five people associated with the situation. Therefore, the issue was not sent to the university Greek Judicial Board for further review.
The situation was not handled according to UCA’s hazing policy, as several indications of technical hazing occurred in the video, regardless of the intention.
The administration team only repeated what all Alpha Sigma Tau members said happened: It was a simple prank that everyone involved knew was a joke and was later blown out of proportion. On the UCA website, the hazing policy states that there “are many hazing ‘myths’ or mistaken beliefs.” Under this section, one myth reads: “As long as there’s no malicious intent, a little hazing is OK.”
The policy counters the myth with this statement: “Safety may be compromised by traditional hazing activities, even those considered to be ‘in good fun,’ and even in the absence of malicious intent.”
To further clarify what constitutes hazing, the website also gives a list of specific examples including “requiring calisthenics such as sit-ups, pushups, etc.”
Sorority house moms, although not shown, can be heard giving members commands to do pushups in the video. In the background, a female voice tells the members: “Stop faking it. I need you to actually do it.”
Even more contradictory to policy was Roberts’ statement that “If it had been the sorority senior leadership that asked them to do this, then we probably would have looked at it as a possible hazing issue.”
Also in contradiction, when asked to comment on people who see hazing as a team-building exercise, Roberts said that “there are some aspects to [hazing]that, in a sense, develop a sense of community.”
First, it should not matter that a nonmember was the only one shown conducting the prank. The hazing policy does not specify that only other organization members can carry out hazing acts.
It conflicts with the Arkansas Hazing Law Prohibitions presented on UCA’s website which states: “No person shall knowingly permit, encourage, aid, or assist any person in committing the offense of hazing.” No hazing definition in either the state or in UCA’s hazing policy requires the act to be carried out by another member of the organization in question.
Second, policy also states that “hazing breeds mistrust, apathy, and alienation in an organization/group. It does nothing to bring the group together as one.” Even in a nonviolent potential hazing situation such as this, the university administration should back up its laws.
There should have been a careful policy review compared to the video evidence, not the intentions, because the policy’s language specifically addresses that hazing can occur in many different circumstances, even those done as pranks.
While all members questioned maintained that everyone knew it was a joke, the student life administration team was wrong to deviate from the hazing policy’s clear definitions. Giving one sorority a pass from the Greek Judicial Board’s review with evidence to classify hazing only appears as a bias toward one organization over others.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 16, 2015 print edition of The Echo.