It's a tradition that has come under fire in recent years and with the death of a student in 2011, Cornell University administrators are making a renewed effort to stop hazing. Tamara Lindstrom tells us about the steps leaders are taking and the challenges they face.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- It's a fine line between the usual undergraduate debauchery and serious, even dangerous behavior.
"We don't want to overreact, on the one hand, but we don't want to under react and send the wrong message that we're complicit in these sorts of behaviors, because we're not," said Travis Apgar, Associate Dean of Students at Cornell University.
From wearing silly outfits in public to excessive drinking and forced servitude, hazing is commonplace on most college campuses. Last week, Cornell University administrators put three fraternities on suspension while they investigate reports of hazing and high-risk drinking.
"We certainly don't want to be in the business of shutting down organizations. But we certainly can't have any tolerance for the behaviors that we see happening all over the country that are really risky for our students to be in," Apgar said.
While administrators are taking action to fight hazing, it's an institution steeped in tradition. The dean says it's going to take more than just rules to make change.
"That's exactly what we're talking about is a culture change and that will take time. We do expect that there will be some immediate, tangible changes come this winter," Apgar said. "But for the mind shift and students really buying into a very different process and understanding that hazing is not productive and that they see it as unacceptable and they're willing to do something, that will take several cycles."
Alumni who were hazed themselves are helping to phase out the behavior.
"When looking back at it, it wasn't productive. It didn't build the bonds they wanted it to build. It didn't educate them about the fraternity or the organization the way that they wanted it to or meant that they should," Apgar said. "So they see it as non-productive, especially in today's environment where the education is really the focus."
Instead, leaders hope to change the recruitment process from one of humiliation and hierarchy, to a healthy orientation where each is individual is respected. A tall order, but one they're committed to see through.
Administrators at Cornell have also changed the rules on fraternity and sorority recruiting. Freshman can't be recruited until their second semester. Hazing can also be reported anonymously on the school's website.