Sorority Suspended for ‘Hazing’: They Require Members to Study 25 Hours Per Week

Students from the Sigma Lambda Upsilon chapter at the University of Virginia pose together for a photoshoot of their fall 2018 members.

By Alex Chediak Published on January 12, 2019

You can’t make this stuff up. The University of Virginia (UVa) has suspended sorority Sigma Lambda Upsilon (SLU) for requiring its members to study for 25 hours per week. Now SLU is suing.

It started with a recruit complaining about the study requirement to a professor. Rather than view it as a teachable moment, this professor forwarded the concern to the University of Virginia student affairs office and to the police. It’s unclear what the police did, but the student affairs group ran an investigation. They determined that SLU’s study requirement violated the school’s hazing policy.

How is this Hazing?

UVa defines hazing as activity “that … produces mental or physical harassment, discomfort, or ridicule.” The hazing code goes on to use words like “physical or psychological shock, fatigue, stress, injury, or harm.”

Stop for a moment. Hazing is a serious word. In 2017 there was a series of hazing-related fraternity deaths. Typically, pledges consuming enormous amounts of alcohol. Tim Piazza died at the age of 19. He had been forced to put down 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes. In response to a year of tragedies like these, Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin College in Indiana and a long-time hazing researcher, said “In 40 years, this is the biggest blowback that I’ve seen.” It’s understandable for universities to clamp down on hazing.

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But SLU’s study requirement couldn’t be farther from the kind of behavior that has rightly landed some fraternities in hot water. The main purpose of college is to study, to learn, to be prepared to succeed in the workforce and in life. Asking sorority members to study for 25 hours per week is not physically or emotionally harmful to recruits. It’s merely asking members to do what they came to college to do: study, learn, and succeed.

It’s not a bizarre one-time loyalty test, like what Piazza died from. It’s a lifestyle commitment — something the ladies pledge to do on an ongoing basis. It’s also a kind-of positive, internal branding: “We want to be known as a sorority where girls take their academic commitments seriously.” Sounds like something that would play well with parents and employers, not to mention the right kind of gentlemen.  

Self-Discipline is Crucial for Success in College

If you think about a student going from high school to college and then into a full-time job, at what stage do they need the most help with self-discipline? I’d say it’s college. High school is about 35 hours per week of in-class work. Parents provide an extra layer of accountability. A full-time job is about 40 hours per week, usually in a building where others are also working. But college? A full-time student is in class anywhere from 12-18 hours per week. That leaves a whole lot of unstructured time.

In their lawsuit SLU points out that UVa athletes are expected to study for at least 25 hours per week. How is it not hazing when the basketball team requires it?

Ah, but college students are expected to study for about 2 hours for every 1 hour they’re in class. That’s 24-36 study hours — a huge increase from high school. It comes when, for many students, they’re away from home for the first time, surrounded by new friends and new recreational outlets. And they’re expected to study 24-36 hours per week? Many freshmen never become sophomores because they can’t pull it off.

A 25-hour per week study requirement sends a positive message. It says SLU cares about its members developing the kind of discipline that will lead to academic and lifelong success. In their lawsuit SLU points out that UVa athletes are expected to study for at least 25 hours per week. How is it not hazing when the basketball team requires it? Give these ladies a break.

UVa Could Use Better PR

Public perceptions of college are tanking. Most Americans today say higher education is heading in the wrong direction. There are a lot of theories as to why, but one thing you’ll hear is the stereotype of the “college partier” — the young adult on a four-year vacation from reality, funded by Mom, Dad, and student loans. Hollywood has had fun with this motif.

In my experience, these partiers are the outliers, not the norm. But when you think about fraternities and sororities getting sanctioned, what comes to mind? Booze. Sex. If UVa was cracking down on alcohol abuse or sexual assault, most people would say that’s a good thing. But getting sued by a sorority because you suspended them over their study policy? A policy that apparently mirrors that of your athletics department? Not helpful.

There’s one last angle here that adds to the irony. Sigma Lambda Upsilon is also known as Senoritas Latinas Unidas. It’s a primarily Latina sorority. Latino college students have lower graduation rates than whites. There’s even research suggesting Latinos may be falling behind whites and blacks. I’m not suggesting UVa’s suspension of Sigma Lambda Upsilon was racially motivated. But it contributes to the bad optics. In their lawsuit SLU argues that UVa has not suspended other “similarly situated but racially different fraternal organizations” for alleged hazing incidents.

Why pick this fight? UVa would do well to settle with SLU. Quickly.  

 

Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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