Ettinger: Sorority recruitment violates Northwestern’s hazing policy


Cate Ettinger, Columnist

Toes frozen, hands shoved in pockets, head down and body braced against the wind, I shove in line between shivering girls, hoping that I’ve found my spot. Amid nervous chatter and increasingly loud moans, the recruitment counselors bark out our names.

“Two minutes!” they shout at us. Time to unzip our coats, revealing our formal dresses and skirts. My bare legs are purple, and I can’t wiggle my toes anymore.

“Name tags in place, facing forward!” they remind us. Suddenly a girl runs up, out of breath, streaks of tears on her cheeks. She struggles with her coat, frantically asking what house this is.  The RCs put her in place in front of me. I try to give an encouraging smile, but it comes out a grimace because my chin is so numb.

“10 seconds!” we hear. Coats are off now. They ring the doorbell. Smiles are switched on, and we wobble, frozen and broken, into the next round of making small talk about our involvement, philanthropies, majors and goals. Sorority recruitment is in full swing.

I came away from the recruitment process with some new friends and significantly more knowledge about the Greek system, but one thing still troubles me. I had heard Northwestern has a strict anti-hazing policy and I wouldn’t have to worry about it in sororities, but what I endured with hundreds of other young women in early January cannot be seen as anything other than hazing. Upon examination of the official policy in NU’s Student Handbook, my suspicions were confirmed: Under the hazing policy outlined in the Student Code of Conduct section, the sorority recruitment process is hazing.

Before listing the actions that exemplify hazing, the policy states that hazing “leads to dysfunction within the organization and is ineffective at creating teamwork, respect, and unity.” During recruitment I saw girls at their absolute worst — sobbing in Norris University Center after not getting called back to their favorite houses, gossiping about the stereotypes of the chapters, turning on friends who they felt they must compete with, and judging and critiquing their fellow women. The process in no way promoted a functional, supportive atmosphere and instead was a generally divisive experience.

The definition of hazing goes on to emphasize that the situation may be created “intentionally or unintentionally” to produce “mental, physical, or emotional discomfort … for the purpose of initiation into … [an] organization.” The fact that hazing can be unintentional is crucial because the Northwestern Panhellenic Association, the sororities’ governing body, claims it doesn’t allow hazing, in accordance with University policy. But this does not mean hazing doesn’t happen. It clearly does, as evidenced by the mental, physical and emotional discomfort I witnessed. I saw women doubt themselves and be overcome with anxiety; I saw women standing in the snow in heels and dresses, bouncing to stay warm; and I saw the strongest women I know break down and drop out of the process.

The policy then proceeds to delineate a number of actions that are specifically defined as hazing. One of the most poignant examples of hazing includes the “creation of excessive fatigue, sleep deprivation, or interference with scholastic activities.” Over the course of five days, and excluding the final night in which the hours vary by chapter, the recruitment process demanded at least 32 hours of our time. It is physically impossible to endure this without exhaustion and sleepless nights. On top of that, the late hours certainly interfered with our ability to manage the piles of work we have. Of equal import, the policy states that “prolonged exposure to severe or inclement weather” is a form of hazing, and we live in one of the toughest winter climates. Standing among women shivering in required formal attire in the snow left no doubt in my mind that we were hazed.

By heavily regulating the recruitment process to make it more equal and fair, the sororities at NU have been relentlessly hazing women. We stand in the snow, freezing, waiting for hours of psychological distress, wondering why the girls at one house didn’t like us enough to call us back and hoping that we are contorting ourselves enough to impress them. Hazing is the ugly reality.

Cate Ettinger is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.