Greek follow up, Youngstown KAP, and a school’s obligations
Last week(ish) I posted that I believe Greeks disproportionately are targeted by administration and punished for reasons that go beyond the actions of a fraternity or sorority. Because I believe that I also believe that the unfair use of what might otherwise be a fair system makes that system unfair.
I got some really good and thoughtful feedback pointing out that Greeks sign up to be held to a “higher standard” than non-Greeks, statistical evidence that points to Greeks doing more “high risk” behaviors than non-Greeks, and other things. I do not disagree with any of those points and am grateful that people took the time to submit them. Each time, however, I had to remind people that I never said the Greeks held accountable do not deserve it. What I said was that, given the disparate (and I believe unfair) scrutiny that there are many things for which Greeks are held accountable that non-Greeks (as individuals or in student groups) are not. People can deny this all they want, but I know for a fact that when administrators are looking for bad behavior they look to Greeks first and sometimes stop there.
I also got some other Tweets and comments that were not as thoughtful. They pointed out sexual assaults, hazing deaths, drinking deaths, and the like, and claimed that I was saying it was unfair for Greeks to be held accountable for their role in those horrible events. I wasn’t. I think that any organization that physically abuses, forces alcohol consumption, or tries to completely break down their new members psychologically is a bad organization.
One of these people sent me this article about some horrific nonsense going on at Youngstown with “you defend this?” What happened (according to the article) is that 2 students were beaten so severely over several days by fists, paddles, and wire hangers over several days that they had to be hospitalized. That’s some animalistic behavior and criminal charges are rightfully being pressed against the individuals involved. Their defense attorney actually said, “the victims repeatedly returned to a Youngstown home knowing the initiation might again be physical.” That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but there are a lot of people who read my last blog and are trying to lump me in with that guy. Don’t! My issue is not, and has never been, holding a person or group accountable for what they do. My concern has always been with making sure that the accountability is actually based on what happened, that it addresses the problem, and that it makes whole the person, group, or culture affected.
At Youngstown the school kicked them off for 15 years with a 10 year probation upon their return. I’m going to assume, for the sake of this entry, that the group has been in trouble before so that they can’t claim historical innocence. 15 years. Really? 4 years is a complete student cycle, and if you wanted to include potential graduate study 8-10 years is enough time for every one of them to leave with their PhD. Even assuming that when they are working their dissertation at 27 they want to hit someone with a hanger and risk arrest and losing everything they have and that they have not developed as people at all, after 10 years and there will be nobody at that school with an even tangential relationship with the group that did these horrible things. So why 15 and why 10 years after that for probation?
Bear with me for a second. If the national organization is a good one (as I believe it is knowing just a little about it) and you are open to the ideas of them returning at some point then why wait so long? If the national organization is bad then why leave the door open for their return at all? Surely there is a different organization that could come in and do better. I completely get making them go away until the last of them graduate, but why after that?
While it seems as if the school is taking a “hard stand” I think it’s actually the opposite. The hard thing to do would be to either kick them out forever and tell the national that they are not trustworthy enough to bring a new chapter forward, or to kick them out until the current students (or at least most of them) are gone and then welcome them back through a school/national/student partnership. The later would say that the school believes in the values of the national organization and does not want to deprive future students of access to those values, but that they were going to work to ensure that there isn’t a repeat of this felonious behavior. Instead they say “eh…15 years.” How does that not seem arbitrary? After 15 years none of the administrators will likely be there, the President definitely will not be, the police should be a new crop, and the students will not remember that the organization ever existed. So why put off the truly hard decision of whether KAP should exist at Youngstown until people with no connection to these events are in the position to decide? While that sanction is effective in making them “go away” I do not think it is in the least bit educational or restorative.
Where I tick off student affairs folks is that I actually think they should go a step further if they really want to address these issues. Looking at that case I, of course, see the crimes committed and sympathize with the poor students who were so viciously beaten. I also wonder if there is anything going on at Youngstown, or with the student population who attend, that makes their students more inclined to both beat and accept beatings. Is there a hostile undercurrent? Is violence promoted? Does this violence translate to other areas like sexual assault and hate crimes? Or was this truly an isolated incident that was a perfect storm of violent sadists gathered under one roof? I find the later much less likely, but I cannot know if I’m right without knowing more about the student population. Either can they.
What I’m trying to say is that I believe that the way to combat the behavior we typically attribute (and always look for) in Greeks is to take a campus wide approach to them. We need to examine the campus climate to see what the acceptance of rape myths is, what the tolerance is for bad behavior, what the bystander attitude is, and other really tough questions. I had a colleague who had a grant to examine violence and alcohol at a top rated institution and I will tell you that there is a REALLY big problem on most campuses. That problem will not be solved by pointing fingers at fraternities and sororities and thinking you’ve addressed it. If you have a campus that openly discusses these issues, that has student buy-in on promoting a positive culture, and understands the failings and openly works to address those failings then you will have a culture that does not see an acceptance of “animal house” behavior, forced alcohol poisoning, “rape rooms,” or hazing. Of course that means looking at your residential culture, the culture of the athletes, and the behaviors of your hundreds of student groups, and that’s a HUGE undertaking. If Greeks really should be held to a “higher standard” then I think the campus should do what it can to make the normal standard as high as possible. Do you want to tell me it isn’t easier to just go to the house with Greek letters on the door and look for underage drinking? When a fraternity is accused of supporting underage drinking and they point out that it happens across campus, how do you educate them by saying “yeah, but in this case we care”?
Afterword: I’m supposed to be promoting what we do as I talk about these things and I haven’t done a good job in this one. People like to bring up extreme cases when they challenge what we do. “You would defend KAP after they put 2 kids in the hospital?” Yes. We would because they are entitled to present a good defense and helping them do so supports the system by allowing the board to do their job properly. However, most cases are not that. Even the hazing cases tend to be things that are seen elsewhere on campus. Underage drinking and drinking games? Yup. Name-calling and ridicule? Yup. Scavenger hunts, dumb t-shirts, interruption of sleep and eating cycles? Yup. So why do I care that these behaviors are only addressed in Greek life? Sure when you say “hazing” you can mean Youngstown, but you can also mean forcing a group of 12 men to sing to a sorority on a different campus or who have to salute when they see a brother.
We help an organization be reflective about their own actions, understand them in light of campus expectations and societal norm, and articulate what happened in a way that conveys that information to a judicial board. We can help an organization work with their national if they get involved. We can work with the alumni chapter and other stakeholders. We can help an organization create an internal judicial process to hold its members accountable. We can help develop an action plan to address “problems” in the house to present to the Greek affairs office. We can essentially do anything that will help you deal with any judicial issues, make any necessary changes with your current membership, and develop an action plan to help make sure that your chapter does not find itself in that position again.
I should also say that if you think you might get in trouble you should think about hiring us ahead of time. Hire us 60 or more days before you get in trouble and we will represent you if anything does happen during that calendar year for a lot less. Contact us to talk it over and see if we can help. I’m sure we can, and the earlier we get involved in the process the more we can help.