HANOVER, N.H. (AP) — A recent surprise inspection of a Dartmouth College sorority house turned up Alexandra Essey and her roommate baking a pie.
It was a far cry from the so-called “vomlets” described in a former fraternity member’s graphic hazing allegations earlier this year. Though a judicial panel found there wasn’t enough evidence to back up the student’s most egregious violations, including that he was pressured to consume vomit, his public airing of the allegations accelerated efforts to crack down on hazing at the Ivy League school.
The college implemented several changes to its hazing policy this fall, including the random walk-throughs of Greek housing and dormitories, and more are on the way. And while not every inspection has uncovered scenes as wholesome as Essey and her pie, college officials say the changes appear to be working.
For example, there were a record number of participants in Homecoming activities in late October, but the lowest number of alcohol-related incidents in years. And there’s been a notable increase in the reporting of hazing allegations, which is significant given that such activity occurs in the “deep, dark recesses” of fraternities and other organizations, said Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson.
“By its very nature, it’s clouded in secrecy, and I think the challenge Dartmouth and many, many institutions face is getting students to come forward,” she said.
The new hazing policy encourages that by offering limited immunity to individual students who report hazing activity. Such students won’t face college disciplinary sanctions even if they participated in hazing, as long as the conduct did not cause harm.
The new policies also include a “fresh start” amnesty program for fraternities, athletic teams or other groups that disclose hazing behavior will get help developing a plan to stop it. In both cases, individuals and groups still could be subject to criminal and civil penalties.
“It allows an organization that has recently engaged in hazing to come forward, fall on its sword if you will, and then start over,” Johnson said of the “fresh start” program.
The walk-through policy did face some pushback by students, said Harry Kinne, director of Safety and Security, but most have come around.
“The anticipation was worse than the actual walk-throughs,” he said. “We have heard from a number of organizations that it was not as bad or draconian as they thought it would be.”
Security officers have developed a schedule to ensure each house and residence hall is checked the same number of times each month. Officers ask a house member to accompany them on a tour of public areas — living rooms, kitchens, etc. — with each sweep taking about 15 minutes. They’ve found some minor infractions so far — houses holding parties that weren’t registered with the college — but for the most part, students are operating within school rules, Kinne said.
“We’ve been doing them now for a couple of months, and we’re very happy with the results,” he said.
Essey, a senior, said students are taking the walk-throughs seriously.
“They knew changes were coming and this is one of them,” she said. “We want students to be safe, and no one wants to get in trouble.”
More controversial has been the plan to require that alcohol only be served by licensed caterers or bartenders. Essey said fraternities and sororities are concerned about the cost and having to increase their dues to unaffordable levels.
“We want the Greek system to remain open,” she said.
Most of the policy changes match what happens on other Ivy League colleges, Johnson said. But Dartmouth is breaking new ground with its plans to expand its so-called “bystander” program to include hazing. Bystander programs typically focus on training students to speak up when they witness sexual assault, but Dartmouth plans to incorporate hazing as well, she said.
In the meantime, the fraternity that was accused of serving up “vomlets” was put on probation for three terms and ordered to participate in an extensive series of educational programs. In April, a judicial panel of students, faculty and staff found Sigma Alpha Epsilon guilty of hazing for driving blindfolded pledges off-campus in 2009, expecting them to drink shots of saltwater or alcohol and expecting them to enter a kiddie pool filled with condiments. But the panel said there was not enough evidence to back up the more egregious allegations made by former member Andrew Lohse, who went public in January with descriptions of the “dehumanizing” experiences he said he witnessed at the fraternity.
Regardless of whether those allegations were true, the uproar over Lohse’s comments sounded a call to action, Essey said.
“It called for self-examination, and that’s always a good thing,” Essey said.
Johnson said she believes most students understand the need for the reforms.
“Any time you start implementing change, you should expect pushback,” she said. “But I have been impressed with the fact that so many students have really stepped up to the plate to find a way forward with the administration.”