More transparency better for Greeks and Indies
I think a primary lesson from the recent controversy over alleged hazing during TKE initiations is this: both to prevent hazing and to improve relations between Greeks and independents, what happens during initiation should not be secret. More transparency about initiation practices on campus will mean both less potential for misconduct and more constructive discussion of Greek-independent relations.
The argument to prevent hazing is simple; increased visibility means less possibility of abuse. The public actions of groups are by definition observable and open to public opinion. In the case of the Greek groups, open parties and philanthropic events come to mind as events open to public commendation or discussion. In contrast, chapter ceremonies are secret but regulated by national guidelines and so in a sense are still “observed” and monitored.
Initiation fits into neither of these two spaces. It is a hidden space observable only by those who participate in it directly. Given the unequal power dynamic between initiates and those initiating them, the secrecy of this arrangement makes it susceptible to misconduct and hazing.
I do not not mean that initiation is a dark place in which bad people do bad things with impunity. I simply suggest that the absence of external observation and input make it more difficult to keep an objective perspective and avoid crossing the line into hazing. I commend Greeks on campus for navigating this difficult position so successfully the majority of the time.
This secrecy means that it is very difficult to discuss initiation in mixed company, as it were. The entire campus can talk about Mr. Whitman or Ball and Chain with ease, but when initiation is the topic, discussion becomes difficult.
After reading the recent front page story about possible hazing during TKE initiation, I was first bothered by the events that allegedly occurred. I still am. But by participating in and observing discussions about the article, I became equally worried about our community’s ability to reasonably discuss anything related to the Greek system.
Whitman College students should be able to have reasonable and respectful discussions about all organizations on campus, especially the Greek system. In particular, we should be able to discuss specific issues involving the Greek system without boiling them down to arguments about the Greek system as a whole.
The article was about a specific incident during a TKE initiation. Yet much of the discussion boiled down to praise or attack of the Greek system and all its members. Why could we not keep these issues separate?
A large part of the problem was the secrecy surrounding initiation and the individuals who defended this secrecy as inherently Greek. I recognize that Greek groups have the right to keep their nationally-directed chapter ceremonies secret and to initiate new members, but do they need to keep their initiation activities secret in order to do this?
I worry about any initiation practice that cannot survive publicity. I suspect that hazing does not occur during the vast majority of initiations on campus, but if Greek members defend their right to secrecy despite allegations of hazing, then the issue becomes about the Greek system, not the specific actions of one house.
Hazing on campus is an issue that everyone should have a voice in discussing. And if everyone on campus knows what occurs during Greek initiation, then we as a campus can discuss hazing specifically, without unfairly lumping in innocent organizations and individuals.
My understanding is that some Greek groups on campus already choose not to keep their initiation activities secret, and since the TKE article I have discussed the specifics of initiation with Whitman Greek students without criticizing their respective chapters or the Greek system as a whole. These discussions were only possible because we both knew the facts of the initiations we were discussing.
While I have focused on TKE and the Greek system generally, my argument applies to any organization or group on campus with semi-secret initiation activities. I would like to be able to discuss specific problems related to any organization on campus without criticizing the system as a whole and all the men and women who comprise it. The more transparent these organizations are, the easier this will be.
Filed under: Opinion