As rush season at Oklahoma Christian University draws near, university administrators and social service club officers are encouraging new rushees to be mindful of hazing prevention policies.
According to the Oklahoma Christian handbook, hazing constitutes any activity recklessly or intentionally endangering the physical or mental health of a person attempting to join an organization. Potential hazing activities include forced consumption of food or alcohol and prolonged social isolation.
Hazing is often unintentional and unplanned, but can cause significant emotional trauma for some students, Student Success Coordinator Liz McElroy said.
“We incorrectly estimate that we’re able to know how much of an activity someone can handle,” McElroy said. “There are reasons for that psychologically. How we are wired is to project how we would handle something onto other people. You never know what other experiences or perspectives someone is bringing to the table, so it is a very common misconception to think, ‘I will know when to stop.’”
Students who encounter hazing activities are encouraged to make immediate contact with McElroy via phone or email. Law enforcement is notified in severe cases, while disciplinary hearings are held in instances where alleged conduct does not meet the criminal threshold of hazing in Oklahoma.
“Any time there is a person in power and a person who that power is being played upon, is maybe a red flag,” McElroy said. “Any time someone has to do endless favors, humiliate themselves or be subject to the other person or group of people, there could be a sign something unhealthy is approaching. A good rule of thumb, we say, is have everyone do the same activities and do things which build people up rather than tear them down.”
To be proactive against hazing, all club rush events must be approved through the student life office, and at least one club alumnus must be present at these events.
Kappa Sigma Tau rush director Cameron Williams said the rules can feel burdensome, but ultimately are necessary to protect everyone on campus.
“It is tough sometimes to do certain things, like inductions and wanting to go off campus with (rushees), but I do see where they are coming from,” Williams said. “The reason they have those guidelines is for the club’s safety and the rushees’ safety.”
Williams said Kappa officers have spoken recently on the subject of hazing and are focused on making all rushees feel welcomed and valued by the club.
“We talked about not targeting one specific person and making sure we don’t make anybody feel pressured to do something,” William said. “If someone doesn’t want to come to an event or do an activity, they don’t have to do it. You don’t know what the underlying reason is behind them not wanting to come.”
Delta Gamma Sigma alumni relations officer Logan Pipes said his club has made a similar anti-hazing effort by shutting down poor event ideas and reducing the power dynamic between rushees and club members.
“We make sure to tell our guys before rush events to make a good impression,” Pipes said. “These are guys who will help us in sports and Spring Sing and as a club to be better. [We say] don’t be jerks to them, we can make fun of each other when we’re all in club together.”
Hazing on college campuses made national headlines last year when 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Tim Piazza died after being forced by his Beta Theta Pi brothers to drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Twenty-six members of the fraternity were later charged with crimes ranging from tampering with evidence to involuntary manslaughter.
Law enforcement agencies in California are currently investigating the death of 20-year-old Tyler Hilliard, a University of Riverside California student, who collapsed and died while hiking up a mountain with the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Several text messages referencing hazing activity were later found on his cell phone.
While remaining a problem on a national level, McElroy said she believes the attitude around hazing at Oklahoma Christian is improving.
“I feel like, across our entire culture, [hazing] is slowly starting to decrease,” McElroy said. “Of course, there are still instances, but not as widespread as it used to be. My hope is our campus is a frontrunner [against hazing], and we internalize it more than people who have no absolute moral code.”