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Anonymous reporting and a culture of silence: Why so few hazing reports result in sanctions

In a Daily Tar Heel analysis of 112 hazing reports made between September 2005 and April 2016, only 19 resulted in sanctions such as social probation, a fine, mandatory community service or mandatory education. Sixty-two resulted in no punishment or action, often due to insufficient evidence surrounding the report.

Aaron Bachenheimer, director of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, said anonymity in reporting hinders the University’s ability to investigate incidences of hazing.

“A lot of times we run the information into the ground, but unfortunately without corroborating information, without a name behind it, without other information, many times that information is all we get,” he said.

Kim Novak, a national expert on student risk management, said that a lot of times people do not report hazing because they are fearful of what will happen.

“They believe that when you say the word ‘hazing,’ everyone automatically assumes, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re going to get kicked off campus,’” she said. “Let a community know that not all hazing is going to result in the closing of a chapter.”

Gentry McCreary, a consultant with the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, said the issue does not lie in reporting, but rather in that campuses are not well suited to investigate anonymous reports with vague information.

“They are the most difficult investigations that a campus administrator will have to do, much more difficult than a Title IX even,” he said.

McCreary said the biggest mistake he sees administrators make is that they begin investigations focusing too much on specific allegations, which tips off the organization and allows members to create a uniform story.

“They go straight for the bullseye, and when they do, they show their hand,” he said.

Anne Arseneau, director of Student Leadership Development at the College of William and Mary, said to prevent information sharing between members, investigators can issue questionnaires, question people simultaneously and ensure that the organization’s leadership does not receive notice of the report ahead of time.

Arseneau said at William and Mary, a consistent message of what defines hazing and aggressive advertising of reporting mechanisms have helped to combat hazing.

“We had a very high tolerance for shenanigans, and people didn’t consider behavior that was clearly hazing behavior as worrisome if that behavior was not resulting in physical harm to people,” she said.

A national study of student hazing carried out by researchers at the University of Maine found that, of students who reported experiencing specific hazing behavior in college, only one of 10 labeled that behavior as hazing.

In October 2013, five pledges at UNC’s chapter of Pi Lamda Phi Fraternity were forced by fraternity members to steal paper towels and household items from the Student Union and committed more than $3,000 of damage to campus facilities, leading to misdemeanor larceny and vandalism charges.

A former Pi Lamda Phi pledge who was involved and who asked to remain anonymous said the members told the pledges completing the task was necessary for their membership. He said at the time he did not consider the events to be hazing but more of a team-building exercise and did not think to report it.

“I think they really believed nothing would happen because at the end of the day, the University didn’t do anything to us,” he said. “(The older members) didn’t say anything about the law.”

Pi Lamda Phi received sanctions from the Interfraternity Council, Honor Court, their national organization and the Standards Review Board after the incident.

Over 70 percent of hazing reports made at UNC occur in September and October, when new membership processes for Greek organizations usually take place, according to University data.

In an 11-day period in October 2008, five instances of hazing were reported against UNC’s chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. All five were found not to have violated policy and the fraternity received no sanctions.

Novak said young men and women in fraternities and sororities bringing in new members struggle to identify how to make the process difficult and challenging without crossing over into humiliating or degrading activities.

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She said research shows students often base their views of hazing on their friends’ attitudes. Individually, students do not find hazing to have any value, but they are more accepting of hazing behavior when they believe friends approve.