Union College acted properly by stopping the Sigma Delta Tau sorority from recruiting new members until college officials complete an investigation into questionable pledging tactics.
The alleged tactics, brought to light by Union graduate Tess Koman in a recent Cosmopolitan magazine article, involved activities that were clearly emotionally degrading; the author indicated as much, though she seemed at odds with how they affected her in the long run.
And even if they didn’t quite fit the state’s legal definition of hazing — activities that cause risk of serious injury — their effects might even be considered more serious and long-lasting.
Someone can die from drinking alcohol to excess — the traditional hazing stunt that has been outlawed but still apparently takes place illegally on some campuses. But most of the time, what happens is they get sick, vomit and recover. Not pleasant and not too healthy, but generally causing no permanent scars.
Rather than physical abuse, Sigma Delta Tau’s tactics — at least those described by Class of 2013 grad Koman — would appear to constitute emotional abuse, the kind that can cause deep and long-lasting emotional scars. They were intended to humiliate the pledges in some sick effort to get them to bond with one another; to subjugate their personal, selfish interests in favor of the sorority’s and its members. It may not be an unworthy goal, but their methods — which reportedly included screaming at the women, insulting them to the point of tears and nausea, shining spotlights in their faces as they described their physical imperfections, locking them in the sorority’s basement, etc. — certainly seem suspect.
A sorority is not a military branch or paramilitary organization like a police department. It’s one thing for the latter to impose such techniques on recruits for the purposes of unity and the common good, but it hardly seems appropriate for people in their teens seeking to join a social organization.
The behavior described by Koman seems to contradict Sigma Delta Tau’s stated mission of “empowering women,” as well as its ban on activities that are “destructive, demeaning or abusive.” So it, and Union College, which has also stated that such measures are inappropriate, need to make that clear, both to the sorority’s local chapter and any other Greek organizations at the college.