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New study draws attention to UMaine hazing policy

University of Maine Professor of Higher Education Elizabeth Allen recently published a new study on hazing on college campuses. The study comes at a time when there is a strong local and national discourse about hazing involving students groups at colleges.

The results of the study, which was published in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, give insight into student attitudes toward hazing on campus and suggest steps that can be taken to prevent it. Allen said that, on the part of the university, it is important to “make a meaningful commitment backed by action.”

Of the 84 percent of students sampled for the study who agreed to answer questions about groups they had been a part of, 26 percent said that they, at one point, had to engage in activities that fall under the definition of hazing as a requisite for membership. The study also found that “students frequently reported positive associations with their hazing experiences such as feeling more like a part of the team or group (62.8 [percent]).”

This study was conducted across seven institutions, according to a UMaine news release. UMaine, Allen said, was the subject of a study roughly five years ago with the Hazing Prevention Consortium, but the data is out of date and a new study is needed to get a sense of the severity of hazing on campus and the attitudes of students.

Current UMaine policy defines hazing as “Any activity without reasonable or legitimate educational value expected of someone joining a group or to maintain their status in a group that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional, psychological, and/or physical harm, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Robert Dana said that this policy is constantly being informed by up-to-date research and information on hazing, like the kind found in Allen’s research.

“[The policy] is not static and is periodically reviewed but the bones of the policy are strong and invariant,” Dana said. “Bottom line is that hazing is bad for people, bad for organizations and bad for our community. There are much safer and humane ways to establish bonds, commitment and connection.”

There are multiple groups at UMaine who have the same commitment to promote anti-hazing policies. Vice President of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) Austin Steward noted that his organization actively works to raise awareness of hazing and engage students in its prevention. In October, IFC organized a “These Hands Don’t Haze” event where members of Greek life could make handprints in paint and sign their name on an anti-hazing banner.

“The goal of the banner, and the Hazing Prevention Week as a whole, was was to show that we the students at the University of Maine (not just Greeks) don’t believe or tolerate hazing,” Steward said. “With the ever changing national view of Greek Life it’s our responsibility to step up and actively show we are different than the stereotype.”

It should be noted that Steward’s comments come on the heels of one serious instance of the University taking action against hazing.

UMaine recently brought down the judicial hammer on the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) for charges of hazing. The fraternity was dismissed from campus last June following a late-spring investigation by university officials into incidents that occured on Maine Day in 2018. The charges against SAE involved violation of UMaine’s hazing policy, violation of the drug and alcohol policy, endangering health and safety and physical assault.

Despite the way the issue is presented by the national media, hazing is not unique to Greek life. Steward encouraged members of any organization to speak up when they think there might be an issue of hazing.

“[I]f you feel something is wrong or doesn’t align with your morals then I would always encourage saying something to your fellow [organization] members,” Steward said.

Dean Dana has a similar view.

“If someone wants to talk to someone about… something that think might be hazing just come to Student Life and someone will sit with you and hear your concerns. Bottom line if you see something that seems weird or wrong say something to someone,” Dana said.

There are multiple campus resources for students who may have witnessed or experienced an incident of hazing, including the Office of Student Life, the University of Maine Police Department’s anonymous tip-line Campus Eyes, UMPD (reachable at 581-9255 and 581-4040) and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.

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