Seven students at the University of Albany have been charged with hazing sorority pledges. On Thursday, Nov. 10 the students were arrested after allegedly blindfolding recruits, making them eat mud and dousing them in a mixture of rotten eggs and milk and a liquid that smelled like urine.
The organization in question was Alpha Omicron Pi, practicing at the University of Albany since 1897, according to their Facebook page. One of the pledges was sent to Albany Medical Center Hospital where she was treated and released after an allergic reaction in which she experienced a shortness of breath, redness to her face, chest burning and swelling to the eyes, according to the Albany Police Department.
City police responded to a noise complaint at 468 Hamilton Street where they found four victims in the basement being subjected to what appeared to be initiation rituals for the sorority.
Psychology lecturer at SUNY New Paltz Dr. Clifford Evans said that all groups are governed by social norms, and selective, exclusive organizations such as sororities are going to have rules for conduct based on who can and cannot be part of the group. He added that if a group prides itself on its selectiveness, then those norms will be even stricter and under those norms it may be acceptable to subject potential members to harsh or even abusive conditions.
“This is even more likely when the current members of the group were themselves subjected to this treatment before they could be admitted — they had to go through it, so these new people have to go through it too,” he said. “A lot of hazing rituals are passed down from year to year as tradition.”
Evans said that these behaviors are also reinforced by the phenomenon of conformity and unwillingness to go against a group in order to fit in and avoid being ostracized. Additionally, people tend to gage the severity of their actions based on the behavior of others around them and what is considered normal in the given group.
“Part of how we judge the situations we find ourselves in is by how the other people in it are acting, and if everyone else seems fine with it, it becomes easier for us to be fine with it, especially if we ourselves went through it too,” Evans said.
Arrested were Jessica Raynor, 21; Nicole Johnson, 21; Chinazo Ezekwem, 21; Tereyza Martin, 20; Katrina Bergvoy, 19; Heaven Guanco, 19; and Monica Vitagliano, all were arraigned in City Court on charges of first-degree hazing, a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail upon conviction.
New Paltz Town Police Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi said that he is not aware of any recent cases involving hazing or anything like what is described above in regards to Greek life here at SUNY New Paltz.
“We’ve had noise complaints with sororities, fraternities, sports teams…” he said. “We’ve had assaults and things like that and fights between different fraternities but nothing like what’s described in that article.”
Lucchesi said that most recent assault case that he recalls occurred in the spring and is not aware of any that have occurred this semester thus far.
Fourth-year biochemistry major and member of SUNY New Paltz sorority Pi Phi Delta Alexa Criollo said that her organization does not support hazing practices.
“It defeats the purpose of the sisterhood that you’re joining and it sets a bad reputation for organizations that do stick to the purpose,” she said. “I personally don’t see the purpose for that and I know I can speak for my whole organization when I say we don’t see the purpose of doing that kind of evil and putting people through that much discomfort.”
Psychology department chair Glenn Geher said that he does not believe any one of the girls from Albany would have committed these acts on their own and that humans that are part of a group become “deindividuated” and are more likely to engage in anti-social behaviors.
“Research on the social psychology of evil [by scholars such as Phil Zimbardo] have shown that evil is not really a characteristic of certain individuals – rather, evil seems to be a feature of behavior that can be released in any one of us – the releasers come about via characteristics of situations,” he said. “And situations that downplay the identities of individuals are well-known for facilitating horrific behavior out of otherwise normal people.”
Criollo added that the purpose of pledging is to get to know your pledging sisters and the women you are entering sisterhood with as well as to educate about the history and philanthropy of the organization.
“Initially you come around because you get along with the girls generally, but you should come out of the pledging process really knowing about our organization,” she said.
Third-year digital media production major Benjamin Schoenfeld, Public Relations Chair for the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity at SUNY New Paltz said that his organization does not haze and has a strict policy against it from their international headquarters.
“Our rituals are used to teach our new members what the meaning of brotherhood and being a part of Alpha Epsilon Pi is about,” he said. “We want our new members to be proud of the letters they are wearing.”
The Pi Alpha Nu Fraternity declined to be interviewed and the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and the Kappa Delta Phi Sorority did not respond to requests to be interviewed.