On February 21, the University sponsored an anti-hazing program entitled Love, Mom and Dad. Rae Ann and Steve Gruver told their story about losing their son in 2017 due to hazing at LSU and have since presented on college-campus hazing across the United States. The Office of Greek Life required 50 percent attendance from every Greek organization, although the program was open to the entire campus community. Over 700 Greek members, over 300 others (non-Greek students and community members) attended, and over 200 students signed the anti-hazing pledge prior to the event.
This program came a couple days after Dean of Students Erica Howard sent an email to the student body detailing a definition of hazing as well as the introduction of a hazing prevention coalition and a hazing prevention website, which allows anonymous reports of hazing.
Donald Abels, director of Greek Life, joined the Sewanee community this academic year, specifically due to need within the job description for the creation and oversight of a campus-wide hazing prevention program.
Abels says, “It’s something I’m very passionate about. Realizing there’s a recognized need and commitment at the institution really gave me an opportunity, and in general a space to be innovative and approach hazing prevention in more of a formal capacity which in the past may not have actually existed.”
With a background in large state schools, coming from Louisiana State University and The University of Mississippi, Abels still notices similarities in Sewanee’s Greek system.
“The Greek systems are similar in the fact that they’re rooted in heavy tradition…with that comes behaviors over time that manifest in secrecy and things that are considered tradition or rite of passage,” Abels says.
Although Abels serves as director of Greek like, he says that every administrator and faculty and staff member bears responsibility for student well-being.
“As director of Greek Life, it’s essential for me to help educate students to prevent hazing and help eradicate any traditions and activities which may have occurred in the past, but students and student leaders realize why those things are problematic…”Abels says, “really get to the bottom of what they were trying to accomplish, and creating and finding new ways to achieve the same goal. Practices that don’t put someone’s mental or physical health in jeopardy”
According to Abels, conversations surrounding hazing remain largely absent at Sewanee. However, the Love, Mom and Dad event sparked more engagement among the University community.
The hazing prevention coalition, according to Abels, will include faculty, staff, students, and potentially parents and Sewanee Police.
“It needs to be an interdisciplinary approach,” Abels says, “The issue of hazing isn’t something that is a one and done thing to fix the culture. It has to have different stakeholders and voices at the table that can provide diverse perspectives…”
As many students within any organization have not experienced hazing, Abels believes these students have a role in hazing prevention.
“I would say to any student who says their organization doesn’t haze, that’s great. Keep doing what you’re doing,” Abels says, “However, I would say that as a student you know what organizations are hazing, whether that’s first or second-hand knowledge. If there is an organization that’s hazing, that affects all of us.”
The hazing prevention website both provides resources to recognize signs of hazing as well as a way to confidentially report any indications of hazing.