Hazing: Schools must share the blame

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Two recent incidents have once again put in sharp focus the recurring problem of fraternity hazing.

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On June 28, an 18-year-old student from the De la Salle University’s College of Saint Benilde, Guillo Servando, died after being beaten up during a fraternity’s initiation rites. There were disturbing video clips from a condominium’s security cameras showing an unconscious Servando being dragged into an elevator by his friends after he collapsed from the beating he absorbed from his “masters.”

Servando died before he could be taken to hospital.

Last week, the social media was abuzz with reports that a student from the University of the Philippines was hospitalized after a fraternity hazing session. The student was not identified because the family wanted to avoid the glare of publicity. The name of the fraternity involved was also kept under wraps, but eventually the UP administration identified it as the Upsilon Sigma Phi.

The incidents triggered public outrage and a flurry of calls for swift and decisive government action. That is expected. And unless we see actual results—arrests, convictions, a serious effort to get to the root of the problem, the issue of frat hazing will slowly recede into the background, forgotten until the next case of ritual abuse comes around.

Fraternities and sororities have long been a part of the collegiate landscape. To be a member of a Greek-letter organization adds stature to a student who craves for recognition and camaraderie. (Up until the 60s, a UP student who did not belong to a frat or sorority is belittled as a “barbarian.”)

Indeed, fraternities provide their members with excellent leadership training, and better chances for a successful career after graduation.

An online article of the Atlantic magazine took a close look at the American college fraternity. “While the system has produced its share of poets, aesthetes, and Henry James scholars, it is far more famous for its success in the powerhouse fraternity fields of business, law, and politics,” the Atlantic said.

It noted that an “astonishing number of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, congressmen and male senators, and American presidents have belonged to fraternities. Many more thousands of American men count their fraternal experience—and the friendships made within it—as among the most valuable in their lives.”

Fraternities “raise millions of dollars for worthy causes, contribute millions of hours in community service, and seek to steer young men toward lives of service and honorable action,” the article said.

But the Atlantic also exposes the dark side of fraternities, saying they have a “history of violence against their own members and visitors to their houses, which makes them in many respects at odds with the core mission of college itself.”

The same descriptions apply to Philippine fraternities, and the same alarming issue confronts our authorities today: how to end the culture of ritual abuse associated with Greek-letter societies.

The natural reaction is to ban frats outright. Certain universities have tried that approach, with little success. Fraternity tradition is too deeply rooted for such a punitive measure.

Another proposal is to crack down on “bad frats”—those who notorious for hazing neophytes. But that could lead to long and complicated lawsuits.

A look at the Anti-Hazing Law (Republic Act No. 8049) provides valuable insights on how the government is trying to address the problem.

Section 2 bans fraternity initiation rites “without prior written notice to the school authorities or head of organization seven (7) days before the conduct of such initiations.”

More significantly, Section 3 requires that at least two school representatives must be present during the initiation, and “it is the duty of such representative to see to it that no physical harm of any kind shall be inflicted upon a recruit, neophyte or applicant.”

The law clearly wants a school to be equally responsible if violence, injury or death occurs during an initiation.

But does a school really want to shoulder that responsibility?

In the case of Servando and in many other fatal initiation rites, the school concerned was quick to disavow responsibility, explaining that the rites were carried out outside the campus.

Perhaps the law needs some tweaking, and put more pressure on school authorities to curb hazing even if happens outside the school premises.

That, we believe, is a good start.

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