By Emily Brower
Following the release of and public attention to “Why Getting Hazed by my Sorority Was Weirdly Worth it,” an article published on Cosmopolitan’s website and written by alumna Tess Koman ‘13, the Beta Xi chapter of Sigma Delta Tau’s pledging has been put on hold by both Union and the sorority’s National Headquarters.
Union’s Director of Media and Public Relations Phillip Wajda stated, “We have asked the current leadership of the sorority to put on hold pledging activity until the review is complete.”
Union’s administration has remained adamant that hazing is not tolerated at the college. Dean of Students Stephen Leavitt sent a campus-wide email on Tuesday, Sept. 24, which read, “I want the campus community to know that Union does not tolerate hazing in any form. Our community works hard to ensure we maintain a safe and supportive environment.” He also said that he and Chief Diversity Officer Gretchel Hathaway would be available to answer questions from the campus community about hazing.
Koman’s article circulated throughout social media over the weekend, including Facebook and Twitter.
The Huffington Post released an article in response to the Cosmopolitan piece on Monday, Sept. 23, entitled “Cosmopolitan’s Sorority Hazing Article Sets us Back 20 Years.” Written by Alana Horowitz, the article stated, “The iconic magazine took a huge step backwards last week, in an article that’s making the rounds on Twitter.”
Horowitz questioned Cosmopolitan’s motives for publishing the article, saying, “It’s surprising that, given Cosmo’s new, more feminist look that [Editor-in-Chief Joanna] Coles would approve something like this getting published.” Coles became editor-in-chief of the magazine in 2012 after Union alumna Kate White ‘72 stepped down after 14 years with the magazine.
Both Koman and Horowitz’s articles have received feedback online since their publications. Union Professor of Psychology Suzanne Benack said in the Huffington Post comment section, “Sororities could do so much for college women, if they could free themselves from the trappings of outdated sexist scripts … Tess’s article exposes the kind of mind control that would make that unlikely to ever happen.”
Horowitz condemned hazing in the conclusion of her article: “There are many ways to create lasting, life-changing bonds with other women—degradation at the hands of your ‘sisters’ simply isn’t one we’d choose to endorse.”
On Tuesday, the Concordiensis was informed of a discussion that occurred at the Greek Life Task Force meeting in which it was allegedly announced that campus Graduate Assistants will be making unannounced visits to Greek houses in an effort to prevent hazing activities.
“The graduate assistants were hired last year to serve as mentors for Greek students as changes were being implemented to the Greek system,” Leavitt explained.
The Greek Life Task Force also discussed issues of legal liability regarding Koman’s article, the current Beta Xi chapter at Union, and those potentially involved in any hazing activities. According to Union Attorney Charles Assini, if a student were to file a lawsuit regarding hazing, then the local Greek organization and students involved with that incident could be liable for damages. “It is possible that a local chapter and involved individuals in a hazing incident could be named in civil litigation and possibly cast in liability depending upon the nature of the acts and damages in any particular case,” Assini instructed in an e-mail.
Despite hazing being against New York State law, the Schenectady Police Department rarely, if ever, sees cases in the city. According to Lieutenant Mark McCracken of the Schenectady Police Department, a hazing case “hasn’t been brought to our attention at Union College, and if it has, then Union College is dealing with it themselves and not involving law enforcement.”
Under New York State Penal Law 120.16, “A person is guilty of hazing in the first degree when, in the course of another person’s initiation into or affiliation with any organization, he intentionally or recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of physical injury to such other person or a third person and thereby causes such injury. Hazing in the first degree is a class A misdemeanor.”
But these hazing charges apply only to physical endangerment and do not encompass emotional trauma.
“In order for a person to be convicted of hazing, there has to be a substantial risk of physical injury from one person to another person, and when such injury is caused, then it becomes a misdemeanor,” McCracken explained. “So you can embarrass the hell out of them all you want, but under New York State law, for a person to be charged with hazing there has to be risk of injury,” he continued.
Though the allegations have not been confirmed, the public’s reaction to Koman’s article is ongoing, with numerous students either agreeing with or denying her allegations.
The Beta Xi Sigma Delta Tau Class of 2009 openly refuted Koman’s allegations in an online petition. “When we heard of the original article that was written, we all had the same reaction—that what was written in the article was misconstrued and above all, false,” the petition states.
A commenter on the Concordiensis comment thread expressed that her new member education process differed from Koman’s. “I just want to say that as a member of another Panhellenic sorority on campus, my experience with new member education was not the same as Tess’s. I pledged my sorority at the same time as Tess did, but my experience was much more positive. I never felt humiliated or disrespected,” the commenter stated.
Rachel Feldman ‘12 stated, “These allegations don’t surprise me. I’ve heard similar stories from sisters and pledges of SDT during my time at Union. Unfortunately, it will be hard to confirm anything because the hazing that Tess speaks of truly does bond them for life and obliges them to secrecy. Tess has taken the first step to changing the chapter’s pledging process for the better and I’m proud to be her Union sister.”
According to Leavitt, Sigma Delta Tau’s pledging activity will be on hold until a review of the chapter is complete.