Understanding the household hazing situation


Franciscan University of Steubenville’s students are accustomed to seeing peers carrying props, participating in blindfolded “trust walks,” or other out-of-the-ordinary activities, all for the sake of household life.

But how far is too far?

While hazing on Franciscan’s campus is not as prevalent as it was in the early 2000s, minor instances still “pop up” and need to be addressed, said the Rev. Gregory Plow, TOR, director of household life.

“When we study sociology, we find that groups of people, when they have rites of passage, can often devolve into things that are not a building of the human person, and even can be harmful to the human person in some way,” said Plow. “Our campus is no exemption from sociological phenomena.”

Franciscan University’s code of student conduct uses Ohio state law to define hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” The university expanded the definition to include actions that destroy or remove public or private property, or that conflict with the academic or religious mission of the university.

Plow said that household life strives to prevent intent processes and induction ceremonies from “devolving” into hazing situations.

“We don’t put crosses on peoples’ backs just so we can build them up again,” he said. “There are enough crosses in life that we receive just by the circumstances of life … we don’t need brothers or sisters to impose them on us. What we need instead is when we do receive those crosses through the course of life, (for) our brothers and sisters in household to help support us, like St. Simon of Cyrene, to carry our cross. That’s where true friendship comes in.”

Plow said what all current households on campus “on paper in their intent processes and induction ceremonies they (that what) claim they do is … without question … all very good and wholesome and up-building of the human person.”

Stella Mariae women’s household is one of the largest households on campus, with 32 current active members and eight intents. Each week in Stella’s four-week intent formation period focuses on a different part of their charisms and covenant, often involving various props and outward displays of involvement in the household.

Stella’s coordinator, senior Shannon Bartnick, said she and her sisters are aware of how others on campus see their household as “big and loud.”

“I definitely think that (parts of the intent process) can be perceived as hazing, especially from someone who’s never done the intent process or who’s not in it,” said Bartnick. “Our household was designed as a very radical household … so our intent process is a lot more radical than other households, and it has been from the beginning. But to everything that we do, there is a meaning.”

Senior Andrea Talay is not a member of a household, but many of her friends participate in household life. She said she has seen many intent formation processes “definitely create a stronger bond between brothers and sisters.”

Still, as someone who is not involved in households, Talay said that she questions certain practices.

“Being from the outside, I don’t know the theological meaning behind certain actions, but I’ve also heard of things that — maybe because they’re out of context — come off as negative,” said Talay. “It’s easy to question whether those things serve the purpose they stand for, even if someone wants to participate.”

Anne Marie Paoletti, a freshman and the newest member of Daughters of Jerusalem household, said, “I think hazing happens (on campus), but significantly less than at most colleges.”

Bartnick agreed.

“It’s there because it’s college,” she said. “I think it’s definitely minor, but I don’t think it’s a non-existent thing on campus. But I don’t think it’s as prevalent as people going to Mass every day.”

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