Ben & Jerry’s is considering changing the name of its “Hazed & Confused” ice cream after anti-hazing activists complained the flavor belittled the deadly problem on college campuses.
Management will discuss the name at an October global leadership meeting, said Sean Greenwood, a spokesman for the South Burlington, Vt.-based company, which is owned by Unilever NV. The moniker was never meant to refer to hazing, he said. It’s a play on hazelnuts and the phrase “dazed and confused,” made famous by a Led Zeppelin song and 1993 coming- of-age comedy.
Ben & Jerry’s released the ice cream flavor in February and didn’t receive a complaint until more than six months later. Lianne and Brian Kowiak of Tampa, whose 19-year-old son died in a hazing incident in 2008, noticed an ad for the ice cream and sent an e-mail to Ben & Jerry’s on Sept. 5.
“I just paused and I was shocked and we were dismayed,” said Lianne Kowiak, who speaks to students and families about the dangers of hazing. “I was just upset about it.”
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The couple’s son, Harrison Kowiak, died of a head injury during a fraternity “hell week” hazing ritual at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. The parents sued for wrongful death, reaching an out-of-court settlement. He was a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fan.
After the e-mail and a follow-up call, Greenwood set up a phone meeting the following week to hear the family out. Criticism also came from anti-hazing activist Hank Nuwer at Stophazing.org, who urged readers to contact Ben & Jerry’s. The company has only received three e-mails total, Greenwood said, showing that it doesn’t take much criticism to get Ben & Jerry’s attention.
The ice cream company, which has supported gay marriage and railed against climate change, is sensitive to social causes. While Ben & Jerry’s meant no harm with the Hazed name, it may not have been attuned enough to the issue, said Greenwood, who compared the company’s tone-deafness to institutional racism.
“I know where we came from on this,” Greenwood said. “So I feel very comfortable we have no mal-intent with this, but it doesn’t mean that family wasn’t upset about it.”
After the complaints, the company issued a statement condemning hazing.
“The flavor Hazed & Confused and Ben & Jerry’s as a company in no way condone — nor support in any manner — the act of hazing or bullying,” Ben & Jerry’s said in the statement. “Ben & Jerry’s believes that hazing and bullying have no place in our society.”
This isn’t the first time a Ben & Jerry’s flavor has drawn controversy. Its shops in Boston apologized in 2012 for a handmade flavor called Linsanity — named for Chinese-American basketball star Jeremy Lin — that had fortune-cookie pieces. Its Schweddy Balls flavor, which riffed on a risque “Saturday Night Live” skit, was protested by the group One Million Moms.
In the case of the Hazed & Confused name, Lianne Kowiak says she gives the company the benefit of the doubt.
“I don’t think it was intentional,” she said. Kowiak just wants the name changed and has suggested switching to “Harrison’s Hazelnut Hooray” in honor of her late son.
While Ben & Jerry’s is mulling its options, the company is unlikely to name the ice cream for Harrison Kowiak, Greenwood said. They are instead trying to learn from the situation, he said.
“You hear about things like institutional racism and people will say, ‘You can’t see it because you are living in it, you were raised in it, you were born in it,’ ” Greenwood said. “This in no way was in reference to hazing at Ben & Jerry’s, but were we doing something that we should have been more aware of?”