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Alpha Phi Alpha Sets a Precedent

After Yesuto Shaw 15’s piece in The D describing the hazing that he endured at Alpha Phi Alpha, Dartmouth’s primarily African-American fraternity, the frat was brought up on hazing charges by the College (though not by the State of New Hampshire). Shaw wrote the following about his textbook physical and emotional hazing at the hands of the house’s brothers:

We were no longer allowed to look them in the eyes, and our names were taken from us. Throughout the initiation process, we would each be referred to as decimal point values (such as 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, etc.). We were ordered into a position of attention whenever we were at the house, and we had to recite facts about the history of the fraternity and respond to certain prompts appropriately, or else. If we ever messed up, we were punished. They made us do countless numbers of push-ups and other exercises, and they would even place objects on us to weigh us down.

Then it got worse. Suddenly, if we didn’t get our facts right, it was no longer only physical exercise for us — they would hit us. At first, the hits were pretty soft in the chest with their fists. Then they took a sturdy, plastic serving spoon, wetted it and smacked us across the chest with it. As if these activities done in the dark weren’t enough, they ordered us to no longer speak to our friends outside of the fraternity. Our only friends would be our pledge brothers. We could talk in class and at our normal activities, but if we saw a friend on the street, we couldn’t so much as wave, or we would face punishments for ourselves, or our pledge brothers, that night.

The fraternity’s members denied the accusations. Nonetheless the Organizational Adjudication Committee found against the house, imposing what seemed to many students to be very light punishment for conduct that was clearly illegal under state law and against College regulations:

● Three terms of College Probation, (effective 13W, 13S and 13X);

● No new member recruitment, selection or education activities until the 2013 fall term at the earliest;

● The house must form an Advisory Board that will meet monthly for the next two years to assist in developing and implementing a substantially revised new member cultivation, selection and education plan;

● The organization and the Advisory Board must work closely with the GLOS Director to substantially revise the process of identifying, selecting and educating new members to ensure the process is consistent with College policies and Standards of Conduct;

● All aspects of the “courting, advocacy, advising and member development” activities must be described in writing and must be provided to any student considering or pursuing membership in the organization;

● The organization and the Advisory Board must also develop an ongoing training program to ensure that all members understand and carry out their roles and responsibilities;

● The organization and the Board must also develop a multi-year plan to review and assess these initiatives, and to promote the long-term health of the organization on campus.

All in all, these penalties are a long way short of derecognition, the result many students expected.

A great deal of talk around campus has wondered whether the house got off easy due to the African-American ethnicity of its members. That’s not a question that we can or should address at present. However the time will come when we have enough information to do so: when another fraternity is punished for hazing. If the next miscreant house’s fact set is anywhere near Alpha Phi Alpha’s, then logically its penalties should approximate those recently meted out. If the penalties are harsher, then we’ll know that there was some kind of bias at work in favor of Alpha Phi Alpha — and we’ll know that an expensive lawsuit is on the way, too.

Addendum: In the present context, the severity of Alpha Phi Alpha’s punishment does seem extraordinarily light. Shaw was a credible witness without a troubled past (like that of Andrew Lohse), and the house had engaged in hazing at a time when the entire campus had been repeatedly warned of strong consequences for actions of this type. One wonders just what exotic hazing will give the College a credible justification for imposing stronger sanctions next time.

We should also contrast Alpha Phi Alpha’s sanctions to the punishment — multi-year derecognition — given to Zeta Psi in 2001 for publishing The Zetemouth, its vulgar and slanderous in-house newspaper. Which actions would you deem more dangerous, thus meriting a higher penaltiy? Such a comparison does not lead one to believe that the College’s adjudicatory process is either fair or consistent.

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