The Office of the Dean of Students brought Suzette Walden Cole from the Institute for Hazing Prevention to speak about hazing within student organizations as part of the Horns Against Hazing initiative Wednesday night.
Texas state law defines hazing as any “knowing, or reckless act … that endangers the mental or physical safety of a student for the purpose of (joining) or maintaining membership in an organization.”
“This campus has a culture,” Cole said. “And if we’re going to change culture, we have to acknowledge culture. It takes this community of humans, of people, to come together and say, ‘You know what? We need to make some change.’”
Attendees observed a moment of silence at the beginning of the event for UT students who lost their lives as a result of hazing, and to remember Nicky Cumberland, who died last fall from injuries sustained on the way home from a Texas Cowboys retreat.
“We just want to push the agenda, get students talking about what they can do to eliminate the hazing that exists, especially something that’s not overt, but still exists,” said Brandon Besses, Safety Education Program graduate assistant. “I think some of it has stemmed from the hazing deaths that have occurred around the country.”
Cole separated hazing into two different categories: low-risk hazing and high-risk hazing. Low-risk hazing refers to hazing that is less likely to cause permanent harm, such as new members running errands for older members, whereas high-risk hazing is more likely to cause permanent harm, such as physical injury. Hazing is not always overt, and members can feel pressured into harmful activities even if they are not explicitly required, Cole said.
“Sometimes our traditions are flawed,” Cole said. “Some of the basis for why we do what we do has never been challenged.”
Cole also spoke about how members of student organizations can help change the culture of hazing by talking about it within their organizations. Cole said new members of organizations learn what is and is not acceptable based on what they see happening around them in the organization.
“People need to stand back and reevaluate the activities that they’re going to do (in) their (organization) and what they want to learn out of their (organization),” biology senior Ashley Garza said. “That’s all about finding your home away from home, and it requires research, it requires friends, it requires a really nice community.”