Following the cancellation of last year’s St. Olaf baseball season, an update to the school’s official hazing policy has renewed a debate that engulfed the campus last spring.
Although the core of the policy has changed very little — several words and phrases have been altered for the sake of clarity — it has been expanded significantly.
There is now a one-time individual and group exemption policy. If an individual reports an instance of hazing to the administration, he/she is exempt from repercussions, unless the “conduct the student engaged in caused physical harm or violated the policy on sexual misconduct.”
The same applies to organizations. The administration will work with an organization to replace questionable activities with activities that meet current standards.
Employees are also subject to the hazing policy and are considered mandatory reporters. Hazing prevention resources have been added at the end of the updated policy to assist both students and staff.
The most notable addition is the introduction of a Hazing Spectrum, which gives examples for each of the three hazing categories: subtle hazing, harassment hazing and violent hazing. The Spectrum seeks to clear up some of the students’ apprehension about how to avoid crossing the line.
“The ones that I think people struggle with the most are the ones on the [subtle] end of the spectrum,” Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser said. “They’re worried that if they stand on a chair and sing the school fight song in the cafeteria, they’re going to get kicked out because of the hazing policy.”
This apprehension is reflected by the fact that many students are unwilling to comment on the updated policy for fear of administrative repercussions. A current member of the St. Olaf Choir — who wishes to remain anonymous — claims that before new members were introduced to the current group, student leaders were careful to assure them that the activities were not a form of hazing, but instead a tradition.
“Tradition does not equal hazing. However, hazing is often called tradition,” Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb ’87 said.
Hazing is a pervasive issue beyond St. Olaf. Almost half of incoming students were hazed in high school, according to administration.
“And that’s not to say that they were traumatized by the hazing. Some of them loved it; it was really part of their bonding thing. But other people didn’t like it at all,” Eaton-Neeb said.
Those that do not like it are often hesitant to speak up. Kneser recalls his own experience with hazing and the struggle to resist group pressure.
“You want to conform. You want to be a part of the group. You don’t want to make waves when you’re first coming in,” Kneser said.
Recent scrutiny of this issue has dredged up some disturbing aspects of St. Olaf’s past. A prime example was the “First-Nighter.”
“I would call First-Nighter institutional hazing,” Eaton-Neeb said.
First-Nighter refers to a long-standing tradition where first-year men and women were lined up by height and paired with a “date” for the night, completing the ceremony with a kiss and a rose. This ritual has since been abolished, but it remains sharp in the memories of many St. Olaf alumni.
Kneser put this change of tradition in perspective.
“That’s us evolving as a community trying to be more considerate of how you welcome people in,” he said. “If our main focus your first night is trying to find you a date of the opposite sex…we have just carved out an ‘unwelcome’ sign for a whole bunch of students. On one hand, I think people look at this as restricting our rights. I look at this as just saying ‘let’s expand the way we welcome people to St. Olaf.’”
The administration encourages student leaders to change how students are introduced to a team or organization. Welcoming somebody new does not have to include embarrassment, humiliation or singling out.
“It’s not uncommon for people to say, ‘Well, people were happy to do it; they were willing to do it. They had a fun time doing it.’ That doesn’t negate it as being hazing,” Kneser said. “That’s one of the insidious pieces about hazing. There’s a perception that everybody loves this stuff and they always have. The truth is they don’t. Students leave St. Olaf because of hazing.”
The new policy is available online at www.stolaf.edu/thebook/general/hazing. The administration invites students and groups to approach them with any questions that they may have or for clarification on the policy.