Monday, October 3, 2011

Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention: Erin Wildeman

I attended the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention this summer. I feel as though my experience at the institute was pretty unique compared to most of the people who went. I come from a chapter that has recently gotten in trouble for hazing, so before last semester, hazing prevention was not something that was even on my radar. I always equated hazing to the stereotypical events such as forced alcohol consumption or paddling, but beyond that I feel as though my definition of hazing was very narrow. Because of this, the biggest thing I took away from the institute was a whole new definition of hazing. I learned that hazing isn’t about the task you are being made to do, but it is an attitude. The attitude stems from the hierarchical structure that can be found in most our organizations, as well as that mindset of dominance or power.  
As an undergraduate student, I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard that “hazing is a grey area.” When we think about our new member education plans, whether they are our official or unofficial plans, we tend to look at each activity individually. For some of the activities it’s simply hard to understand why OFSA thinks its hazing. The institute taught that we need to take a step back and truly think about the major goals of our member plans.  If we keep in mind “attitude” and then reflect on the member plan as a whole, rather than trying to analyze each activity individually, much of the “grey area” surrounding hazing is eliminated.
My chapter has been presented with a difficult challenge, to stop hazing. One of the hardest parts has been gaining universal chapter support. Hazing is part of our tradition as a chapter, and it is fueled by the fact that hazing has been so normalized across all of Greek life at Lehigh. It is hard to go from chapter that hazes, to one that does nothing over night, but when it really came down to it last semester, everyone chose to keep our charter over continuing with these traditions. I am proud to tell you that physically, my chapter has stopped hazing, but mentally, not all of our members have fully grasped it yet. They are willing to stop hazing because they could see how critical our situation was, but it is hard to understand why we are not just channeling our efforts into brainstorming better and more clever ways to hide what we are doing from OFSA, because that would definitely be easier.
I would say that the biggest thing that has helped our chapter move forward has simply been to have a more open dialog about hazing. I know that several members, as well as myself now feel comfortable having these discussions with people in OFSA or conduct officers at Lehigh. Furthermore, I learned that it only takes a couple of members who are willing to lead their chapter to turn the attitude of hazing around. We now have the unique opportunity to be an example for the other chapters on campus. I think that we are on our way to proving that we can be just as close and have just as much fun without hazing in our chapter. 

-Erin Wildeman