Hazing Debate Continues

Mia Council ’16
Assistant Features Editor

The Smith College House President Manual for the 2012-2013 academic year defines hazing as “any activity in which students feel social pressure to participate, whether this pressure is stated or implied,” and goes on to say that “common examples at Smith are scavenger hunts, senior breakfasts, and middle of the night trips to diners.” While a midnight venture to a diner does not necessarily imply social pressure, it seemed to be the concern of the Judicial Board when it imposed social sanctions on Wilder and Morrow House last semester.

Wilder’s first-year and senior bonding last semester consisted of a common ritual at Smith. Lily Newton ’13, a Wilder senior, explained, “You signed up for it, but it was open to all the first-years in the house. We woke you up, made you stand on one foot, and then brought you to the Route 9 Diner and bought you whatever you wanted. Life is so hard!” Morrow holds a similar tradition with their first-years.

First years were allowed to opt out, “and several did,” according to Newton. The students who participated had a good time, according to Etta O’Donnell-King ’16, who added, “I got to have chicken fingers and a milkshake in the middle of the night. It was awesome.” However, first-years were nominally kept in the dark about what the nature of the bonding ritual would be.

“We weren’t going to tell anyone anything specific, but we were absolutely more than willing to answer logistical questions,” said Newton, explaining that the seniors advised a first-year on the crew team not to participate so that she would be able to wake up for practice in the morning. After being driven to the diner, students gave each other nicknames and talked about living in Wilder.

“We’re clearly really mean, angry, bullying seniors. Can you tell?” laughed Newton. She wasn’t the only one left confused. “They take you out to dinner,” said a bemused housekeeper. “How else do people bond?”

Still, opinions on hazing differ on campus. “Use of the word ‘hazing’ gets people up in arms – I mean, we’re not paddling anyone – but I think privileging upperclassmen over underclassmen creates a hierarchy that doesn’t need to exist in the school,” said Comstock House President Julia Whiting ’14.

West Quad Area Coordinator Heather Lou has met with both Morrow and Wilder members throughout the course of the year. She clarified that administrators could not discuss Judicial Board cases due to privacy rules, but did comment on the issue of hazing.

“For me, it’s about, how do we want to make people feel in their community? The thing that I usually gauge is, did someone feel unsafe? Was there a power dynamic? Did people feel that their sense of agency wasn’t there and honored?” Lou explained.

The reporting of the bonding incidents as hazing has varied. In the case of Wilder, a first-year told her sister, another Smith student who had been involved in ResLife, about the ritual, and her sister reported Wilder to the Judicial Board. According to Newton, Wilder wasn’t actually found guilty of hazing, but rather, of noise violations and disrupting the house, but due to Judicial Board sanctions, the house was unable to hold any social events, including teas, for an entire semester, and had to perform several punishments that had to do with hazing, such as producing videos. Morrow faced a similar consequence, and the house held an alternative bonding event rather than Winter Weekend.

Many students have a problem with the way ResLife staff handled this case, specifically Hannah Durrant, Associate Director of Residence Life, and Becky Shaw, Director of Residence Life. The Wilder newsletter, the Weekly Wee Wee, alerted students that “Hannah and Becky’s unprofessional conduct” would be addressed at the next House Council meeting, and the House Council is drafting a letter to the administration on the matter.

“My frustrations lie in the fact that … I don’t feel ResLife did a good job,” said Newton. “I don’t like the idea of ResLife acting supportive, coming and facilitating a big meeting, and then having ResLife have to be the people presenting the case against us to the Judicial Board. It’s a conflict of interest, and I think it’s inappropriate.”

“Mm-hmm,” agreed O’Donnell-King.

“A lot of people ended up feeling like we didn’t have a resource on campus who we could trust,” said Newton.

Ultimately, many students in Wilder and across campus remain concerned about whether their houses will be next, while others are merely concerned by the lack of information and input from the student body. Regardless, it remains to be seen what actions will be taken, but for now, two Quad houses will end the year having missed out on many important traditions and events.

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