In a statewide initiative to teach students in public institutions about the dangers of hazing, New College will offer an optional online course on the subject. The course will be available for incoming students starting in the fall. Resident Advisers (RAs) who were being considered for rehiring have already taken the course, which aims to educate students on what it means to undergo or enforce extreme peer pressure. The course was acquired by the school at no cost and will not be mandatory.
The Student Code of Conduct defines hazing as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation or admission into an affiliation with an organization.” These actions, which are commonly seen in the context of fraternities and sororities, can include “forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual.”
Yet while the State of Florida is determined to educate students on the dangers of hazing, Dean of Students Tracy Murry noted that he had dealt with only a couple instances of hazing in his seven years of working at New College.
“We’ve had maybe, I would say, one or two in seven years that we actually placed that label on the charge letter,” Murry said. “I would assume this is the way it is at the lot of schools. If five people encourage a 6th person to do something they’re not comfortable with, that’s hazing … Harassment, one of our more popular charges, could be considered hazing. [Hazing] is easier to prove if it falls under harassment.”
Murry noted that some New College traditions, for instance, the triannual scavenger hunt that takes place before Palm Court Party (PCP), could be viewed as a textbook case of hazing.
“Whenever we’ve tried to examine that, people who might have been responsible [say] they did nothing wrong because people volunteered to do it,” Murry continued. “That’s the same as if you volunteered to do a fraternity or sorority or if you volunteer to be in a band or on a football team. That one doesn’t hold water with me.”
Student Affairs took the feedback offered by RAs about what could be done to improve the course before it is presented to incoming first-years next year. Murry told the Catalyst that according to Campus Life Coordinator Meghan Walde, the feedback was constructive and in fact, mostly positive. The results from the survey revealed that RAs wanted the course to be more specific to New College and not focus so heavily on scenarios occurring in fraternities, sororities and athletic departments.
Third-year and first court RA Taylor Toro agreed that the course should be suited more specifically to New College before it is released to the student body at large.
“I don’t know, just with regards to that hazing thing, I feel like a lot of it wasn’t tailored to New College as a whole because we don’t have a lot of these fraternity sorority type gatherings of people that do these awful things to each other,” Toro said. “I know that since I’ve been here, I’ve felt pressured to do things, but I don’t know if that was hazing. I don’t know where we can draw the line between hazing and peer pressure.”
Third-year and third court RA Destinee Aponte, however, believes that even though the hazing course could have been more directed to New College students, it still has some merit.
“There were a lot of examples of Greek life and sports and we don’t have organizations like that here,” Aponte said. “We have VOX, but that’s not a club that does hazing, that’s a club that’s all about inclusivity … I still think it’s important to have some kind of awareness [about hazing] that even though its not apparent on our campus, maybe [students here] have friends at other places or universities that are going through hazing and don’t know about it. So having that awareness provides some kind of benefit in the long run, even if not here at New College.”
Murry noted that while physical hazing is not apparent on campus, psychological hazing, which usually is reported as harassment, is much more common. He credits this to the small size of the college.
“I will say on our campus a lot of that physical activity stuff has become more and more unacceptable in the community,” Murry said. “There’s a lot of things people put out like ‘this idea is X, and if you like that, or agree with that, we can’t socialize with you.’ That’s really a form of hazing. That’s saying we expect a certain type of behavior out of you and if you don’t go along with that kind of behavior, then you can’t be a part of the group… the worst thing you can be called on this campus sometimes is ‘normal’ or ‘average.’ There’s this way that we accept everybody as long as you fit into what we find acceptable. And some of that, at a bigger school, it might not be as big a deal, but to be isolated on a smaller campus, especially early on, is hard.”
The course, which takes about 45 minutes to complete, will be available online to all interested students around orientation week.