By: Tamir Virani

The line between welcoming and hazing new students during frosh has become alarmingly blurred.

In fact, when frosh weeks end with scorned reputations, national outcries and public apologies, it’s time to start questioning if there really is a method to the madness.

Under the guise of welcoming students to campus through a week of fun-filled events, frosh has been an established tradition in university lore for years. It may sound innocent enough to the uninitiated, but let’s break it down for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of witnessing one first-hand.

A standard welcome week at post-secondary school is generally composed of three key ingredients: a group of underage adolescents experiencing life away from home for the first time, copious amounts of alcohol and a slightly smaller group of guides not much older than our naive froshers themselves.

Shake them all together and what do you get? For Saint Mary’s University and the University of British Columbia it’s rape-themed cheers and disgruntled university officials. For the University of Ottawa, it’s a group of shackled first years covered in food and paraded through the streets.

At Memorial University, it’s a mug given out to students with the words “If she’s thirsty…give her the…D.”

Coming out on top (or bottom, rather) is rapper Classified, saying “Give it up for rape” at Western University’s orientation week concert.

Frosh week 2013 in a nutshell, folks.

Officials at both UBC and Saint Mary’s were quick to condemn the acts of their students and launch investigations into the events that transpired.

But these sort of things aren’t enough to remedy the real problem at hand, not even close.

Let’s take a moment to re-evaluate the difference between welcoming students to a new chapter in their lives and just plain hazing.
Hazing comes in different shapes and sizes, and while Hollywood has led us to believe it’s mostly extreme acts like tying someone to a tree or making them run naked down a dorm hallway, this isn’t exactly true.

Hazing can be as simple as coercing a group of freshmen to shout profanities, having them endure verbal abuse or partaking in binge drinking. And when you have a group of impressionable 17-year-olds dying to fit in, you’d be surprised at just how easy it is to pressure them.

If you’re still unconvinced, another notable case is the University of Maryland’s Delta Gamma Sorority which recently came under fire for a, now infamous, letter. It was sent from one of the executives to its newest initiates telling them to shape up via threat of physical violence. How’s that for a welcome to university?

You’re new, you’re being told to do things that may make you uncomfortable, but will you stand out as the black sheep and voice your concern or just keep your head down and go with the herd? Chances are it’s the latter.

Especially when you’re only 17.

The hive mentality is a powerful weapon and it’s been wielded by student leaders across North America for quite some time now.

There’s obviously a problem, but how do schools go about fixing it?

First of all, by being proactive rather than reactive. Damage control and repercussions are all fine and dandy, but it does little to prevent the same things from happening year after year.

Simply put, the onus falls upon school administration. These schools need to take on a more active role in addressing and defining the idea of initiation to its student leaders.

Sensitivity training needs to be not only taught, but enforced. The vulnerability of freshmen should be emphasized. And school officials should be, at the very least, signing off on the events organized by their student bodies.

McGill University recently incorporated changes to their orientation week based on feedback and consultations from past students. The concerns that were expressed were then taken into account in the planning stages. What resulted was an Integrated Orientation Week which took the emphasis off chants and drinking and put it back onto actually making students feel welcomed.

It is possible to fix the situation without taking all the fun out of frosh week. It’ll just require university administration to use a little more of that forward thinking they like to teach so much in class. Until then, here’s hoping next year’s freshmen can make it past their first week without making the six o’clock news.