Being part of a university group is an integral part of the university experience. It is a great way to make friends and get involved in the community. Many schools host clubs fairs to highlight all the different groups students can join and encourage it encourages the involvement in these student organizations. Yet recently we are seeing stories come out showing the darker side of students groups on campuses across the country.
On Monday March 10th it was announced that the largest student group at the University of Alberta, the Lister Hall Students Association, was to be suspended for a year following an investigation into a hazing incident. The Lister Hall Students Association, or LHSA, is the student elected governing body that runs the largest university residence in Canada with 1,800 students. This is not the first time that the university has had difficulties with the LHSA. In 2012 changes were made to Lister’s staff and hiring policy as well as changes to the alcohol and drinking policies. These changes were made after a document was released citing urgent health and safety concerns for those residents living in Lister Hall based around the high level of binge drinking that was occurring. The document was complied with incidents as far back as 2000 and included: a Floor Coordinator (LHSA staff member) and student vomiting on each other, collecting it in a container and a third student drinking it; a student drinking urine, beer and toilet water mixed in a cup; drinking urine from a container; students urinating on each other; lighting a student’s pubic hair on fire.
The LHSA is not the only student group on campus that has come under scrutiny in the past years. In 2010 the Delta Kappa Epsilon (Deke) fraternity was suspended for five years after hazing incidents. Students at the fraternity were found to have been deprived of sleep, encouraged to drink heavily, confined in a plywood box and being forced to eat vomit during their four day initiation process.
Binge drinking and hazing are not new stories on university campuses. Much of the hazing is based on deep rooted traditions in student groups. The incident that took place this year in Lister Hall was part of the Skulk competition, which has been part of the community since the 80’s. It is difficult to imagine that this is the first hazing incident that has taken place over the 30 years of the competition but rather an evolving accepted ritual that is passed down from year to year. To previously try to eradicate this type of ritual, the university made Lister Center a primarily first-year student’s residence in 2012 to remove returner students passing down the traditions and binge drinking culture. This was obviously not the solution they were looking for in light of this week’s announcement. Universities across Canada and the United States are also facing the same problems of hazing and binge drinking. Almost weekly new stories emerge highlighting the details of the hazing rituals that exist in our post-secondary systems. It is far from a few isolated incidents but rather shows deep-rooted cultural traditions that are now becoming commonplace in the university experience.
These traditions go against the University of Alberta’s code of behaviour stating that no student” shall create a condition which endangers or potentially endangers or threatens the health, safety or well-being of other persons.” The hazing and previous incidents that have taken place in Lister Hall have gone against this code and punishments for this can include probation, expulsion, and the rescission of a student’s degree. These punishments would require the university to go after individual students. None of the cases thus far have seen this happen but rather suspensions of the organizations themselves. Thus far, the actions taken against Lister Hall have not stopped the abusive and dangerous behaviour.
The incident this year in Lister Hall, along with incidents across the country, shows a deeper problem in the student groups. The traditions that have been created are based around rituals that are damaging to the health and wellness of the students. The culture that has been created and passed down from student to student normalizes hazing and binge drinking. The news is slowly trickling out about these traditions. Yet what are schools to do about it? The previous actions taken against Lister Hall have clearly not deterred the harmful traditions. The dekes faced a five year suspension, which was lifted two years early after the organization completed community service hours and raised money for charity: actions which all active fraternities do annually as part of their programs commitment to the community.
With the past of Lister Center known, is it possible that a one year suspension of the organization can deter these actions permanently? Previous action taken against them has not deterred the behaviour so perhaps a one year suspension will quell the issue, yet looking at the frequency and severity of the issues faced at the U of A and across the country, it doesn’t seem like we have seen the last of hazing. Post-secondary institutions cannot seem to find a solution that permanently removes the hazing from the traditions that are rooted deeply in the student culture that universities are built around.