Guilty Before Proven Innocent

This past week the University’s administration did the student body a great disservice when it decided to release information regarding FIJI, and the allegations that frat members practiced homophobic hazing rituals involving a Brokeback Mountain theme. The decision to alert the campus in the form of a mass email was both inappropriate and defamatory; causing a whole group of students to be guilty before proven innocent and having the student body judge the frat members without any substantive information presented. The campus-wide email was totally inappropriate, but the situation was only worsened when Tom Gustafson, VP for Student and Campus Life, released the information to the Burlington Free Press earlier this week, saying that they had heard about the alleged hazing “through the rumor mill.” The “rumor mill” is most certainly not a sufficient source to completely demonize students that may be innocent, and it also undermines the already low level of respect for Greek Life at UVM. Clearly the administration was afraid of appearing “soft” on hazing, especially because in the past UVM has made national news for depraved hockey rituals and fraternity kidnappings. But in this instance, the administrators over reacted. No substantive evidence had even been produced against the brothers at FIJI, there is only hearsay evidence at this point. Of course, the University must take a hard stance against homophobic taunting or harmful hazing practices. However, administrators appear to be making up for their past failures rather than responding accordingly to this particular event. Instead of releasing the name of the frat and the exact allegations, administrators should have instead issued a report that protected the accused. It should have read: “Currently a Greek organization is under investigation and has been suspended for hazing rituals that violate campus codes.” This could have both educated and protected members of the UVM campus. Without substantive evidence, names and details should not have been mentioned. If evidence does in fact exist then it should have been included in both the press release and the Free Press article. But since such evidence did not appear, we can only guess that it does not exist, or that it would not stand up in court. Even if FIJI is guilty, the frat’s name needed to be protected until evidence was produced against them.