March 28, 2012

Anti-hazing campaign promotes care for self and others

"They were nice when they wanted us to join. But now it's like they've turned on us." "I want it to stop, but I don't want to get the group in trouble." "They keep telling me it's almost over."

These quotes, along with information about hazing, were distributed on posters and postcards across campus earlier this semester as part of a hazing prevention campaign called "Rethink. React. Regroup." The initiative's goals are to support positive social connections and end the demeaning and often dangerous practices of hazing.

"There is such a pull on students to fit in, that they sometimes engage in inappropriate and even harmful behavior," said Joseph Burke, director of Residential Programs. "By giving students information about activities they do not need to accept, we can help them make choices. We're hoping the posters raise awareness both for individuals who may say, 'I don't have to put up with this particular action,' and for organizational leaders who may say, 'Maybe we shouldn't do this,'" he said.

Burke estimated that about 95 percent of those joining fraternities or sororities each year are first-year students, which is why the campaign materials are primarily directed toward them. However, students who are thinking of joining any team or group should know when group initiation activities cross a line.

"It is important to emphasize that unsafe and harmful practices are not just actions of an individual within a self-contained group, but reflect on the broader Cornell community. If we as individuals and as Cornell community members tolerate these actions, we are basically condoning them. They can tear at the fabric of our community," he said.

The hazing prevention campaign, distributed by the Office of the Dean of Students (with support from Gannett Health Services, the Judicial Administrator, Athletics and Physical Education and Cornell Police), is part of the broader campus "Caring Community" campaign.

The campaign is also consistent with President David Skorton's advocacy nationwide for ending college hazing rituals, binge drinking and other unsafe practices. This stance was first publicly announced in the Aug. 23 New York Times op-ed, "A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing." Holding our university to "a higher standard" conveys that "we value our students, and we want them to value themselves," Burke said.

"Getting student input on campaign messages was crucial," said health communications specialist Jennifer Austin, who guided the campaign effort. "We sought input from several student groups, as well as individuals, to make the campaign language as clear and relevant as possible. We want students to feel empowered to end the cycle of hazing."

A direct mailing of the hazing-prevention postcards was sent to all on-campus students in January. Posters were widely distributed in residential buildings and Greek houses, as well as athletic facilities. For images of the campaign materials and more information about hazing at Cornell, visit http://www.hazing.cornell.edu.