By Emily Brower
On September 19, Cosmopolitan published an online article written by alumna Tess Koman ‘13 entitled “Why Getting Hazed by my Sorority was Weirdly Worth It.” The article described numerous hazing allegations in relation to her pledging experience with the Beta Xi chapter of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority at Union. The article was published on Cosmopolitan’s website on the last day of Union’s fall sorority and fraternity recruitment. Koman, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Concordiensis, is a sister of the Beta Xi chapter of Sigma Delta Tau and a member of the sorority’s fall 2010 pledge class. Sigma Delta Tau was founded in 1917 at Cornell University, and the Beta Xi chapter was instituted at Union in 1977. Koman declined to comment for this article. The allegations described in Koman’s article refer to a pledge class that graduated in 2013, which has the potential to hinder disciplinary action at Union since sisters who may have been engaged in hazing have left the college. According to Dean of Students Stephen Leavitt, “The women she is speaking of are no longer at Union.”
In her article, Koman described alleged pledging events that potentially violate the hazing policy. These alleged acts of hazing have not been confirmed at this time. Koman elaborated on pledging events such as “line-ups,” “lock-ins,” sharing a single toilet with 42 other pledges, constant monitoring and scheduling, being on-call, pledge names “meant to either be condescending or reflective of something we had done on campus,” being “forced to dance for all the fraternities on campus to absurdly sexual songs,” and ultimately keeping it all secret.
The first e-mail Koman received after accepting her bid read: “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late, you’re fucked.”
In her article, Koman admitted, “I was made to feel pretty terrible about any activity that I was doing that wasn’t sorority-related. We were constantly monitored and scheduled throughout the day. We had mandatory group lunches and library hours during which time we had to sign in and confirm that we weren’t skipping any activity without a legitimate reason.” Line-ups, as described by Koman, allegedly consisted of making a single pledge stand under a spotlight, dressed in white, make-up free and where “the sisters, who wanted to be amused and make us cry, asked us ridiculous and mean questions.”
According to Koman, “The school counseling center’s intake of new students triples during the fall during pledging. About 90 percent of these newcomers are women.”
The college’s 2013-2014 Student Handbook reads, “New York State law and Union College policy prohibit hazing in all its forms.” This policy is not exclusive to Greek life, but includes clubs, organizations, sports teams and individuals. The Handbook defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created as an explicit or implicit condition for initiation into, admission into, affiliation with or continued membership in a group, organization or team.” These actions include, but are not limited to, “causing mental distress to an individual through, for example, humiliating, intimidating, or demeaning treatment.”
Leavitt commented in an e-mail, “I don’t have any sense of whether the allegations are true or not. They certainly speak to sorority stereotypes, and I do know that hazing has been done in the past at Union.”
On Friday, the Concordiensis was informed that President of Sigma Delta Tau Laila Ohebshalom ‘14 and President of the Panhellenic Council Nora Swidler ‘14 met with members of Union’s administration. Ohebshalom directed any media inquiries to Sigma Delta Tau National Headquarters Executive Director Debbie Snyder. Snyder confirmed that an investigation into the Union chapter of Sigma Delta Tau has been opened and is currently ongoing. “The National Headquarters of Sigma Delta Tau has already begun an investigation into these allegations,” she stated. Leavitt verified the investigation. “The sorority national has contacted me and we will be coordinating with them in the case,” he explained. Snyder stated that the Sigma Delta Tau sorority has a zero-tolerance hazing policy. “Sigma Delta Tau Sorority does not condone hazing. Our mission of empowering women at both the undergraduate and alumnae level is in the forefront of all sorority activities, and hazing is absolutely against our values and policies,” she instructed. Swidler corroborated Snyder’s statement. “On behalf of the Panhellenic Council, we do not condone hazing,” Swidler stated. “The allegations are under investigation [and] are being handled by our national organization,” she continued.
While unable to speak about disciplinary action, Leavitt stated that the school “will pursue vigorously any allegations that we hear about.” Leavitt also stated that he believes this situation to be a setback for the Greek community, not just at Union, but in general. “It reinforced all of the stereotypes about hazing and sororities,” he wrote. However, Leavitt is optimistic about the potential outcome of the situation. From his perspective, the article “also offers a real opportunity for [Greeks] to redouble their efforts to change the image, and to make sure that those activities are no longer being done.” He continued, “I think the Greek men and women have to take seriously the point that any hazing interferes with their mission.” However, in her article, Koman voiced a belief that her alleged hazing experience managed to help her and her eventual sisters develop closer bonds. “We’d all just been through the same strange and awful pledging ordeal, and that would always bind us,” she explained.
Koman also reflected on why she partook in pledging activities as a sister, knowing the “awful pledging ordeal” she had similarly been put through. “I did it, so they have to too, goes the thinking. It’s tradition so why should anyone be the exception?” She questioned. “Hazing felt, in a twisted way, like some kind of service,” Koman continued. But Leavitt maintains that Greek life should be free of hazing. “Greek life is in an uncertain position at many schools, so it is doubly important that students figure out how to have Greek life without hazing.” He continued, “I think that Greek life at Union has come a long way since when the article’s author was a sophomore, and I want to encourage them to continue in that positive direction. It is what is best for Greeks, best for the men and women involved, and best for Union.”
UPDATE:According to Union’s Counseling Center, the fall term sees an average of 180 new students, winter term sees an average 120 new students and spring term sees an average 110 new students. These new students are from across the academic years.
Director of the Counseling Center Marcus Hotaling confirmed in an e-mail that there is an influx of sophomore patients at the beginning of each fall term, mostly due to pledging. He stated, ‘During the first few weeks of fall term, we do see a rise in the numbers of sophomores who come in – mostly due to pledging issues (anxiety related to rush, not getting the house they want, and stress related to pledging).’
Hotaling also stated that often women make up the majority of these patients, though he added that ‘counseling centers nationwide are utilized more by women than men.’