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Yvonne Abraham

Time to end hazing crisis

They should throw the book at the Big Morons On Campus responsible for the mess police found at an Allston frat house early Monday morning.

These BMOCs would be the Boston University students who heaped glory upon their Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity by heaping honey, hot sauce, and coffee grounds on five young men - pledges, presumably - who were stripped to their underwear, whipped, bound, and left in a cold basement.

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This is the same fraternity connected to another possible hazing incident in March, when police stopped some male students carrying drunk sorority women - one required an ambulance - on an Allston street.

You have to wonder what’s going on at my alma mater. In addition to the Greek grotesqueries, BU has fielded not one, but two, hockey players accused of sexual assault. And then there are the student newspaper geniuses who ran an April Fool’s story making light of rape.

None of this is close to OK. But this hazing debacle isn’t about just BU. It’s not about just fraternities and sororities, either. Hazing hits headlines when somebody dies during some alcohol-soaked initiation rite, or when police happen upon humiliated hopefuls, but it’s everywhere. According to a national 2008 University of Maine study, a whopping 55 percent of college students experience hazing - not just fraternities and sororities, but athletic teams, bands, performing arts groups, even honor societies. And from where psychologist and hazing expert Susan Lipkins sits, the problem is getting worse.

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“In the last 10 to 15 years, it has become more sexualized and violent,’’ says Lipkins. “Since the advent of the Internet, people are sharing videos of their hazing experiences. Others see it and say, ‘We’ll do it even better.’ ’’

Super. So why do students like the five found shivering and petrified in the Allston basement submit to the humiliation?

Partly because recruits don’t know what they’re getting into until it’s too late, Lipkins says. Hazing rituals such as sleep deprivation, verbal and physical abuse, forced binge drinking, and coerced sex acts are often kept secret, or played down. By the time they realize how bad it’s going to be, pledges find it hard to leave. Nobody wants to flee and become a “dead pledge,’’ ostracized by the moronic elite.

But hazing victims aren’t pathetic kids, desperate for friends, says Elizabeth Allan, a professor of higher education who conducted the University of Maine survey of 11,000 students at 53 colleges. Her respondents were mostly well-adjusted socially and doing fine academically. In interviews, students who had been hazed said they participated because they wanted to prove themselves, accomplish something, and maintain a tradition.

And despite what many state laws say, they did not call what they’d been subjected to hazing, because they’d consented to it. That’s how kids keep getting away with it.

Thus the inhumanity is passed along, as recruits become abusive upperclassmen and, eventually, the kind of alumni who complain if a college president hints at solving the hazing problem once and for all. Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim - confronting a controversy over the hazing for which his school is notorious - told the Globe last month that any attempt to peremptorily remake the fraternity system would draw justified “mocking and ridicule’’ from trustees and alumni. Now, there’s a gutsy stance.

But even if you did away with Greek communities, you’d still have other hazing venues. No, the only way to change the culture is for colleges - and police - to crack down so hard on students like the men of Alpha Epsilon Pi that others stop doling out similar abuse.

In the meantime, we could pray for kids who aren’t joiners.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com

Correction: Because of an editing error, a column in Thursday’s Metro section incorrectly suggested that fraternity hazing has not already been banned at Dartmouth and many other colleges.

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