Seth Novak is a sophomore majoring in government, is in Sigma Pi, and loves public transportation and bikes! Email Seth at email@example.com
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
After the tragic passing of Adam Oakes in February 2021, The Virginia state legislature quickly and unanimously passed Bill 439, otherwise known as “Adam’s Law.” With the passing of this bill into law, it required universities to receive extensive hazing training and then in turn train the students. As of this year, all College of William and Mary students looking to join an organization have to go through this training.
Looking back on my freshman year, I thought I could be more involved on campus, so I did just that. I looked to join more organizations on campus, but to do that I first had to attend this new hazing training. I walk into James Blair Hall at 7:30, ready for the hour and a half program that would educate me on the dangers of hazing. The problem is, I feel like I didn’t learn anything from it.
The program was adopted from the University of Virginia and was centered around getting students to recognize what hazing is and call it out when we see it. One of the issues with this is that it is extremely unclear what the school sees as hazing. During the training session we were shown various activities and asked if they constituted hazing, but the administrators running it wouldn’t say if we were right or not. While it is defined in concrete terms on the school website, in practice there are various uncertainties on how the school will react.
The school’s approach of having us, as students, define hazing in our own terms is a falsehood if they don’t plan to stand by that process when a case comes up. I am not saying that the definition of hazing should only be in the hands of the student, but that the school should not lie about who has the power in the relationship.
The College’s main weapon to deter hazing is a reporting system that alerts them when a hazing incident happens. Thinking about this in broader terms, this will not deter hazing happening, but make it harder and harder to find. Organizations will just become more secretive with how they conduct themselves and administer their hazing processes. If the goal is to eradicate the practice of hazing, more effort should be put into shifting the culture at the school and within the organizations instead of doling out punishment after punishment.
There are a few ways to go about this, and while none of them will work overnight, it is an important process that could create more concrete and lasting effects on the community. One of which could be hosting workshops that build programs that instill the beliefs that hazing purportedly does in a safer manner. This also establishes transparency between the school and the organizations, dissipating the aforementioned secrecy. To prevent future hazing related deaths, there has to be a cooperative effort in doing so, not further entrenching the hostility and antagonism between the two sides.
Transitioning to student-to-student interactions, if a student is in trouble, the school recommends calling the police and letting them handle the situation. In the case of intoxication, this will usually lead to an ambulance being called. Seeking medical attention is critical for anyone experiencing alcohol poisoning, but the costs associated with an ambulance are exorbitant.
The cost alone is enough of a disincentive for most to forgo a call and instead try to solve the situation themselves. If this is the College’s only solution to helping a student in need, they are virtually leaving us to our own devices. I understand this is a large ask for the College, but it must also be understood that if they only provide us with one option, there has to be structure along with it, not simply telling us what we should do.
That was the problem I felt throughout the entire training session. It seemed as though the school provided this hazing prevention program solely to say they did and check off the box. With no structural changes being made to how they handle hazing and the program itself being borrowed from another school, it seems like little thought was put into the implementation. I encourage the school to take a deeper look into how it can help students, because as it currently stands, little is being done.