Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, January 4, 2019 11:05 am

Studying is … hazing? Nah, bro (and sis)

One of the nation’s top public universities says a sorority that requires its members to study at least 25 hours a week is hazing. That university needs to go back to school.
Before I started college, back when the Wright Brothers were pups, my parents explained that I should literally look at college academics as a full-time job, one requiring 40 to 50 hours per week: If I was going to be in class, say, 15 hours a week, then I needed to be putting in at least another 25 to 35 hours reading, studying, writing papers, doing labs, etc. THEN I could think about eating and sleeping, and THEN I could think about fun. (As it happened, I ended up adding 40 hours of radio work per week to that whole schedule, with significant impingement on both sleep and fun, but I also graduated with student-loan debt that was merely manageable, so that worked out OK in the end.)
So, I’ll be honest: I’m having a difficult time seeing how a University of Virginia sorority could be suspended by the university for hazing simply for requiring its members — not just pledges — to study 25 hours per week. Yet that’s what happened; the university’s chapter of the Latina sorority Sigma Lambda Upsilon (also known as Senoritas Latinas Unidas) was suspended for just that. A pledge filed a complaint, and after an investigation (or an “investigation”), the university suspended the chapter in March. The sorority filed suit in U.S. District Court in September, alleging its First and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.
In principle, at least, I think the suspension was nuts. That said, I can see how any time/place/manner requirements might be burdensome, depending on what they were. The article didn’t discuss those requirements, so I had a lot of questions. For example:
  • Did the sorority require its members all to do their 25 hours of studying at the same time each week (e.g., 7-midnight Sunday-Thursday nights) rather than allowing each member to slot her 25 hours into her schedule wherever it fit best around classes, labs, and jobs?
  • Were the members required to do their studying at the sorority house or some other defined location, rather than in locations of their choice — their rooms, or the library or lab?
  • How, and how invasively, did the sorority track the study hours of its members?
  • Was the 25-hour requirement waived or adjusted proportionately for members who were part-time students?

Still, just how wild would any time/place/manner requirements have to be to constitute hazing? Hazing has a legal definition, after all. Here’s how Virginia law defines it:

“It shall be unlawful to haze, or otherwise mistreat so as to cause bodily injury, any student at any school, college, or university. …” (emphasis added)

I found the original Charlottesville Daily Progress article about the sorority’s lawsuit, and it says that UVa further defines hazing as:

“any action taken or situation created on Grounds [university property — Lex] that is intended to or does produce mental or physical harassment, humiliation, fatigue, degradation, ridicule, shock or injury.”

Again, absent some very weird time/place/manner requirements, I’m having a hard time seeing how a study requirement could cause the kind of problems described in that definition. Moreover, the sorority correctly argues that many other campus organizations have similar requirements. For student-athletes, the Daily Progress notes, NCAA rules limit team-related activities to 20 hours a week, but that doesn’t include things such as study halls, tutoring and travel.

The sorority argues that it is being discriminated against because its members are Latina. The articles don’t suggest that there is any evidence that that is the case, but the facts as reported certainly seem to suggest that 1) the chapter is being treated differently from other student organizations — for whatever reason — and 2) there’s no legal or administrative basis for the suspension. Hell, I think students could only benefit if more student organizations, particularly Greek social organizations, imposed similar requirements.

One last note about this case: The lawsuit was filed in September, but we’re only now hearing about it. That fact likely speaks to the dramatic cuts in news reporting ranks over the past several years. In most metro areas and in many smaller markets, court reporters used to check civil-court dockets at least weekly for suits involving, at the least, prominent plaintiffs and/or defendants — the city or county or local colleges or hospitals or large employers, say. Clearly, the Daily Progress is no longer able to make those kinds of checks, and God knows it’s not alone in that.




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