College Judicial Consultants

Information on college, conduct, Greek life, advocacy, and fairness-published every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Archive for the category “mistakes”

The Real Problem with SAE’s Bus Video

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” —W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming

If you’ve read this blog, or if you’re going back and doing so now, you know I’m pro-Greek life. I really like fraternities and sororities and, for the most part, think that they are often the “low hanging fruit” when someone wants to seem like they’re addressing systemic issues of alcohol and drug abuse, rape culture, and other issues that I despise. My premise in earlier writings was that people who want to target Greeks can easily do so because Greeks give them plenty of opportunities, but that the things we vilify them for are done by less targeted areas of a campus community. In other words, if we’re fighting Greeks then fine. If we’re fighting the things we accuse them of then we need to be more systemic in our approach. I have also said that part of the problem is that by segregating themselves, requiring a selection and initiation process, and by being so visible as an exclusive group Greeks are understandable targets of scorn and concern, especially by non-Greeks.

Then the SAE video comes out with a bus full of white kids with names like “Parker,” embodying the privilege that people despise and “proving” what everyone has said about them. Enough people have broken down the video, but I think that there is a really important point being missed in the discussion of whether fraternities are racist or “America’s apartheid.” The video is terrible and I have no doubt that it’s happening elsewhere. In fact, we have already had this discussion when we were talking about sororities at the University of Alabama a year ago. I hate the entrenched privilege and exclusion in many Greek chapters, but the thing that makes me the saddest about that video are the brothers and guests who weren’t chanting.

I’m not sad that they are in a chapter that got kicked off. I’m not sad that they’re embarrassed or that people think they’re racist. I’m sad because they did not have either the tools or the courage to speak up. I’m sad that in the BEST light, this is an organization run by the worst of them. I don’t mean their elected President or other officers, but I mean the guys who put their chapter at risk with every social event, endanger the health and safety of their guests and brothers, and who do so while demanding loyalty and silence from those people in the name of “brotherhood.”

When I spoke at a sorority on “Making Good Bad Decisions” I asked the organizer what she wanted me to talk about. She said that in their group of about 130 there were 20 or some odd sisters who were going to “get them in some real trouble.” This didn’t mean that other 100+ were following all the rules, but that this group were doing things without regard for themselves, their sisters, or their chapter as a whole. I asked “why do you think you guys let them” and the answer was the same as I hear from officers when I help a chapter in disciplinary trouble “nobody wants to be that person” who ruins a good time or seems uncool.

I believe that there are chapters that are irredeemable. I believe that there are chapters that do nothing wrong and meet/exceed every expectation set for them. However, I think most chapters are filled with good men and women who may break some school policies on occasion, but who are adamantly opposed to the same things the rest of us are–hazing, forced consumption of alcohol, sexual assault, racism, homophobia, etc. I also think that many of those chapters don’t have the ability to intervene and address behaviors that are against their organizational and personal values, and that that inability leads to the worst of them controlling how the chapter behaves.  When a chapter does not address that behavior and correct it, it is the same thing as embracing it. So when a fraternity in trouble comes to me and tells me that “it’s the seniors” or “this one pledge class” that keeps getting them in trouble I tell them that that stopped being true after the first time they did something with which you disagreed and the chapter did nothing.

The simple fact is that disciplinary action isn’t going to fix anything unless the chapters themselves preempt the need by dealing with those people within their organization that are betraying that organization through their actions. National organizations are suspending and revoking charters and schools are suspending and expelling organizations more than ever, and in some cases disbanding entire Greek programs. This will not stop until fraternities and sororities show that the problems are with a small percentage of their members and are being addressed meaningfully by the majority because, until then, the ones caught are indeed the entire chapter in every way that matters. The obligation for this training should be with the national chapters themselves. College administrators can support this bystander training, but the responsibility needs to come from the organizations that abandon chapters when things go wrong and claim that they are not acting in accordance of the national values. Unless a national organization BOTH teaches values AND how to support and act within those values, they are 100% culpable for the actions of their chapters.

Does your chapter do anything to address harmful or hateful behavior? Does your school provide any bystander training? Let me know.


Next post: Should the Oklahoma SAE’s have been suspended? What about the brothers?

What You Post On Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media WILL Get You In Trouble.

This week I worked with students from Boston University’s Panhel and IFC on next step risk management. Towards the end of our time together, one brother asked me if Facebook posts could be used against them in a judicial hearing. If you read nothing else, know this—what you say/post on social media (or on most internet sites) can absolutely come back to hurt you.

My expertise is in the campus judicial process and in those hearings, the civil and criminal rules of evidence do not apply (which is one reason hiring an attorney makes less sense than hiring us.) This means that hearsay, unverifiable reports, biased testimony, and other evidence not allowed in court are used in judicial hearings. So, as a rule (even though there are some exceptions)—there are no barriers to using what you post in a blog/social media/other site against you in a judicial hearing. In other words, if you post something silly that shows you violating campus policy on the internet you can expect it to come back to bite you. Ask Sigma Chi at Central Florida what happened when this picture surfaced:


The caption on was “Forcing a pledge to chug while two others puke in misery. Total Frat Move.”

The best advice I have to avoid trouble through social media posts is simple—do not do anything that, if recorded, would get you in trouble. However, if you ignore that first part make sure it isn’t recorded. (Most of us with a past of “spotty” decision-making are really happy Facebook wasn’t a thing when we were in college.)

You may be saying “well, duh”, but you would be surprised at the many ways posts and pictures come to the attention of administrators:

  • Your social media accounts are not set to “private.” Don’t let a picture show up accidentally when someone is just trying to get in touch with you.

If you’re going to post pictures of yourself doing a 2 story beer bong, you should make sure your hall director can’t find it when checking the dorm’s Facebook page.

  • You have been tagged in a photo or post. People LOVE tagging their friends when they have a photo that could embarrass them. That’s fine, but when you’re tagged it becomes easier to find. Either set your privacy levels to prohibit someone from tagging you or check (regularly and often) to make sure you aren’t.
  • Your photo was “shared” with the administration. Off the top of my head I can think of 4 sorority judicial cases and 2 fraternity cases that came from someone sharing photos of them violating party rules, hazing, or committing a recruitment violation. There are many reasons someone might do this, but the point is that if it is brought to your admin or judicial officer’s attention it has to be responded to.

If he is your pledge, this will always get you in trouble.

  • Parents researched you because they are concerned about their son/daughter. This is especially true just after roommate assignments are made, but it can be true all year. If a pledge has a protective parent you should expect that parent to check out every other pledge’s and every brother/sister’s pages to see what they can find. If they find anything, they’re probably going to share it.
  • You are part of a national organization (honor society, NCAA, fraternity, sorority, etc.) and someone from that organization is checking on the members. This is less common, but if you are part of something and thus represent something there is going to be someone who believes you should be upholding the values and reputation of the group you joined and/or someone who resents it.

The good news is that most judicial officers I know do not seek out incriminating photos, and even the ones that might do not try to get past privacy settings or build a case solely on what you put out there. As with most things, the more incriminating your post the more risk you take, so ask yourself if posting it is worth it before doing so.

I leave you with my 5 rules of posting:

  1. Never post something that embarrasses someone else without his or her express permission. (Yes, this includes that picture of your friend passed out with writing all over him.)
  2. Assume anything you post will slip out of your control and be seen by more people than you intended. (*cough* Anthony Weiner.)
  3. Understand what your posts and profiles say about you to anyone who searches you out. In most cases, people do not take the time to get past the impression you chose to give them.
  4. Never make a decision about what you should post when you’re wasted (or even buzzed.)
  5. Pretend you’re not you and Google yourself occasionally to see what someone can find. Fix anything you don’t like.

Have you or anyone you know ever been in trouble because of a post they made? Do you have any questions you would like answered? Email me at or post in the comments and let’s talk about it!

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Getting Better Advisors–Why Administrators Are Wrong About Us, And Why That Mistake May Hurt You

At College Judicial Consultants we have tremendous respect for judicial officers, Greek advisors, and other administrators, but believe they should be less mistrustful of outside help during the campus judicial process. When that help is an attorney for the non-legal judicial process, that help can indeed hurt a student and cost the student thousands of dollars. While we understand that mistrust, we believe that when you look at the support offered on campus, we are not truly outside.

Fact 1: Every student discipline system allows a student or organization (“respondent”) to have an advisor, with most limiting that advisor to a non-attorney from the campus community.

Fact 2: Only a handful of schools have an organized advisor program where they train a few faculty and staff in how the system works and make those people available for students going through the process. These advisors are well intended and may help a few students each year. However, their job is to make sure the student understands the process and is connected to campus resources; not to “help” the student minimize the consequence or negate false accusations. In other words, they are there for emotional and psychological support only. That support is REALLY important (in fact we encourage every client to take advantage of it) but that type of advising is less than a respondent needs when they are innocent or the stakes are high.

When a respondent goes through the disciplinary process there are two essential parts of that process the respondent needs to understand—the procedure and the content. Judicial officers often say that their system is “different” and thus requires someone with specific training to understand it. While this is technically correct, ask your judicial officer if he or she can understand other systems and I’ll bet you $5 they won’t have a problem doing so. Judicial systems have slight differences, but they are similar enough that there are best practices, model codes, community assessment models, and uniform standards. More importantly, any system they have must be explainable AND in writing in a way to make it understandable. When you meet with the judicial officer he or she will explain it to you and that explanation is essentially the same “training” the advisors from the school receive.

The much more important part is developing the content where the respondent gets the chance to tell their side of the story and present evidence to show how their version is correct and the accusations are inaccurate. It is during this part of the process where respondents make mistakes that can get them found responsible when they are not, and make their sanction worse than it needed to be. It is in this arena that our consultants are miles ahead of any other “advisor” you will get from the school for two very important reasons:

  1. The least experienced of our consultants has seen at least 10 times the number of cases as the most experienced advisor from your school (with that number closer to 50 times more.) This means that your consultant has seen literally hundreds more responses than anyone you will find on campus, and are much more likely to have seen a case with similar facts to yours.
  2. Our consultants’ only goal is to make sure you are not found responsible for something you did not do and have the smallest consequence possible for what you did. We are not faculty who have opinions about plagiarism at your school. We are not administrators who have had to deal with “problem” students. In other words, we do not have any reason to protect the school, the community, or the system.

In other words, we are like the best advisor you might find on campus but with vastly more experience, and without any agenda other than giving a respondent the best chance for the best result. Why would anyone on your campus not want you to take advantage of that?

 Contact us for a free and completely confidential consultation to go over your case and see what we can do for you.

Know the People That Affect You In College (i.e. the Accidental Good Idea)

When I was in college, I was the classic example of a smart kid who made bad decisions. If there were 2 ways to do something and one way could get me in trouble that was the way I invariably chose…and chose it often. It was so bad that it became pointless for me to try and avoid mistakes, and success became learning a lesson early enough to not make the same mistake more than twice. Some of these mistakes were small and some involved police being called, but any one of them could have been the thing that got me sent home.

There was exactly one reason I was able to be that donkey and still graduate (and it wasn’t because I had good grades or my almost unbelievable charm.) The simple truth is that I got to know everyone in a position of authority that I could. I knew not just the RAs on my floor, but I knew the ones from my building and when someone came around I didn’t know I introduced myself. I knew the hall director, the student government advisor, the judicial officer, and every one of my professors. I met some of them when things went wrong, but for the most part I knew them simply because they directly or indirectly had authority over my life. This was not an intentional strategy, but it turned out to be a good one.

When I started working in higher education I was reminded of my relationship building because a small percentage of students took the time to do the same with me.  There are several reasons this is a good idea:

  1. Almost without exception the people working in student affairs and with students are good people with interesting stories. If you know that first hand it will improve your interactions down the road.
  2. People are more inclined to help when they know you. This is simple human nature. If you are “Jennifer” and you get caught smoking marijuana in the dorm, the first instinct will be to do more for you than if you’re “that girl in 205.”
  3. You get the chance to let someone know who you are so they don’t just judge you when they “have to.” This is similar to #2, but more positive. When I was in charge of judicial issues, if someone came up to me to change the way something was enforced I was a lot more open to it than if they tried to make the same argument because they were “caught.” The truth is that when a person in authority knows you he or she is much more inclined to trust the motives you present rather than make assumptions you may not like.
  4. There are numerous opportunities that get presented to these people, and the better they know you the more likely it is that you will be informed of them. This can be as simple as being on a committee or information about a paid internship.

If you are going to get to know someone, remember that they are busy as well. If the person is an administrator make (and keep!!!) an appointment. Go to programs, say hi, help out, and do other things that show you’re a good person before you need them to believe it. Besides being a good way to check out some other life options, it can also be fun.

Obligatory plug: Subscribe to this blog, check out our website, follow me on Twitter, or like us on Facebook (if people still do that.) Also check out our friends at The Greak Tweak if you’re in a fraternity, sorority, or just want some good advice.

Avoiding Looking Guilty During Finals

Most college students will have their finals next week, and I wanted to share some frequent “mistakes” students make to hopefully help a lot of you avoid getting into trouble.

  1. Make sure you fully understand your professor’s interpretation of the collaboration policy.  You are probably allowed to work together on final projects and presentations, but many professors have individual twists on the collaboration policy especially around finals.  You are responsible for whatever is written in the syllabus, whatever is said in class, AND whatever your school’s policy is on this issue.  Check with your professor to make sure your understanding of the policy is correct.  This is ESPECIALLY true for take home exams.
  2. On take home exams, follow the instructions regarding collaboration and acceptable source material exactly.  If you have 3 take home exams, chances are you will have 3 different sets of rules and expectations regarding collaboration and what you can use when completing the exam.  Your professors know that many students will cheat and use prohibited resources so he or she will be looking for some signs of academic misconduct. Take the B or C rather than trying to cut corners for the A.  I know take home exams suck, but getting caught sucks a lot more.
  3. Make sure you know how your professors feel about using past exams to study, especially if you are in a fraternity or sorority and have a “bible” with old exams in it. While I think it is fine to use old exams to study, avoid these mistakes:
    1. Do not bring in old exams you have as part of any “open book” test.
    2. Do not memorize solutions.  Even if you have memorized them because of your giant brain, do each problem/answer each question from scratch.  Faculty, especially faculty that use old exams, usually have things in the questions that they expect students to get wrong or answer a certain way and when someone doesn’t they get suspicious.
    3. If you have been told expressly what you can and cannot do in terms of using old tests, follow those instructions.  Professors have more experience catching cheaters than you do breaking the rules.
  4. Do not make the common mistakes people make when doing their final paper. I know many of you are going to half-ass your final papers especially if they are in a “blow off” class, but make sure that no matter how little effort you put in you avoid doing the following:
    1. Do not use Wikipedia.  I know that is almost hack advice at this point, but people do it every semester.  Here’s how they get caught:
      1. They actually quote Wikipedia and try to attribute that quote to a different source. Professors Google phrases.  You will get caught.
      2. Using a source sited in Wikipedia not in their library and that might be considered a “rare” book (i.e., no way you found it.)
    2. Make sure you cite your work properly.  A lot of plagiarism cases are based on students either not citing their work or citing it improperly in a way that looks like they are trying to take credit.  Go to your writing center or check with your TA to make sure you understand what’s expected
    3. Do not use a paper from another class.  Professors who teach similar subjects usually know each other and there is zero defense for doing this other than “I didn’t know I couldn’t” which never works.
    4. If you have someone proofread make sure his or her edits are put into your own words.
  5. Don’t cheat. I do not know a single person who didn’t know they cheated when I was in school, but as a professional I met dozens each year that claimed they didn’t know.  You know, and if you aren’t sure whether something you’re doing is cheating, it probably is.

All that being said, if you do make a mistake it is crucial that you handle the consequences properly. We have continued our 20% off sale though December 20, 2012.   The best time to get our help is before you meet with anyone officially, but we have a variety of services to help you.  So don’t do anything to get in trouble for academic misconduct or violating the honor code, but if you do get in touch with us ASAP.

Good luck on finals and congratulations on finishing the semester!



Bring us to your campus!

We have launched a new campaign on RocketHub to raise money to do a nationwide college tour beginning in February.  Go to our page on RocketHub for more info.  If we get enough money I will spend up to 6 weeks on the road going to as many colleges as possible to do workshops and/or presentations on risk management, student advocacy, fairness, or other related topics that meet the needs of each audience.  

Many chapters, IFCs, Panhellenic Councils, and other student groups have asked that we do something.  This is your chance to bring us to your campus for a fraction of what it would cost otherwise. Depending on your donation, we will publicize you, your organization, or whatever you’d like on our site or even our touring vehicle.  Help change the way college students and student organizations understand their power and advocate for themselves!

There for the Grace of College Journalists Go You (Hopefully)

I should begin by saying that I absolutely believe that student journalists are at least as respectable as their “professional” counterparts and, considering the state of media in America, often more so. They are often the only students on campus who take the time to understand university culture, challenging or bringing to light issues that effect their fellow students. In fact, most administrators I know are concerned (if not downright frightened) that their actions are going to negatively draw the paper’s attention, and that the student reaction to it will be so strong that they will have to retract, rescind, or otherwise respond to the criticism in a way that will haunt them. (I, in fact, know some Dean of Students that are so terrified of negative publicity that they do everything in their power to limit staff contact with student media, and will completely change their positions to preempt any critical stories.) That is not to say that administration is shady or trying to get away with anything. On the contrary, almost everything that any administrator does is done transparently, and the theoretical, developmental, and pedagogical reasons for those actions easily given. But different students have different needs and values, so any action taken and placed under a microscope will please some, enrage some, and bore others. (For example, I tend to be pro-Greek life which some might construe as being “anti-GDI” or “anti-administration.” I don’t see it that way, but trust me-for every person that thinks CJC is serving a crucial need and advocating for students, there is someone who thinks we are trying to ruin judicial systems.) Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion administrators, faculty, and other professionals on a college campus are always fair game. It is what they do for a living and as long as the criticism is factual, it is fair. After all, on college campuses these people are the “public figures” and should always be ready to face the spotlight.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of college journalists feel that as long as what they write is “true” then it is completely fair to write, and do not consider the impact that it may have outside of the article itself. I am taking in particular about including the names of students or student groups in who do something “newsworthy” without thinking about the impact that article will have on their subject for the predictable future. Students are not pubic figures, and in the “Google age,” student papers become a “permanent record” that every other office, system, and policy avoid creating. That means that when someone is 40 and they apply for anything or meet someone new, the first record that will likely show up about them is the thing they did when they were 18. Let’s face it. Most of us don’t do that much that makes the papers. Even if including names or identifying information is ethical and it makes the story “better,” I do not think that people realize the social and professional cost for the subject of their article. What’s worse is that many times the names of these people or organizations are printed before all the facts come to light or a situation is resolved so that what follows a person is potentially a baseless accusation, or at the very least a half-truth.

I had one case that really brought this home for me. [Note: I am going to change the names and facts to protect the people involved (and to keep confidentiality,) but hopefully the point will not be lost.] A student, “Steve,” was accused of making hateful and racist remarks against black people in an email. Charges were brought against the student and, as the process was happening, the student paper wrote about the racist threats, printed excerpts from his email, and included his full name. It quoted some students affected by the email that were, understandably, hurt and outraged by the email. The paper contacted me, but I was not even able to confirm that a case was happening, much less what was happening in the case because of privacy concerns. Steve did not respond to the journalist because he has a pending hearing and didn’t want to do anything to make the situation worse. So the journalist wrote the article with the information she had—the email, the opinions of the injured parties, and a “no comment” from me and from the accused student. There were then editorials and follow up articles on the topic for the next several weeks as the case went forward. At the end of the case the student had whatever sanction was given, but he was not suspended or expelled. The paper went on to say how “nothing was done” to the student because he was still on campus, and asked numerous students how they felt about “nothing happening” to Steve. Understandably there was a lot of outrage because the people asked had no idea what Steve’s actual sanction was, and neither I nor anyone else associated with the case would tell them.

By the time the whole thing was over there were 8-10 articles/editorials about the situation with Steve’s name appearing in most of them, and those articles were cited or referenced by various people across the country (blogs, Facebook, etc.) So to the world, Steve was a potentially violent racist, and my office and the university didn’t care enough to do anything about it. While much of what was written was factually incorrect, the journalist and other contributors worked with the information they had and wrote what they believed to be true. Nobody did anything that was against the rules or even professionally unethical, but that isn’t the point. Steve’s name is out there and linked to “violent racism” without any ability to correct it, remove it, show another side, or even go into what happened. To anyone who Google’s Steve’s name, from now until the end of time, Steve is a violent racist who got away with horrible things while in school. That’s not something that a future employer wants to deal with, and if they are even willing to give him a chance, its not something he can explain because the actual facts are different than what is searchable, and why would anyone believe his version? Long after the official and confidential record of his actions is destroyed according to law and policy, the “unofficial” searchable record will exist. In other words, at some point it will literally be impossible for Steve to prove anything other than what was written in the article.

Including Steve’s name did nothing to help the story or highlight the issues. I am not saying that the journalists didn’t have the right to print it, or that readers might not have been more intrigued because they could Facebook Steve and put a face on the story. I am saying that journalists have the opportunity to defend all students if they remember that the people outlive the story, and that their fellow students should be allowed to atone for and move past the mistakes they made when they were in college. They cannot do any of that fully if their name remains engraved in stone. A journalist could still print the story, get the resulting outrage, accuse the system and school of refusing to act, and talk about the racial climate at the university without associating an identifiable person with the issue.

Student journalists should take it upon themselves collectively to refrain from using names of students or student organizations that get into trouble while at school. Doing so will not interfere with the freedom to write about the incident, the reactions to the incident, and every other component of the story. News is news, and I for one will never tell someone to hide the truth. However, the truth and a journalist’s dedication to truth should be tempered by a moral obligation to the good of each member of their society. In the case of college journalists this means doing everything they can to protect their fellow students up until the point where doing so interferes with the facts of a story. This is especially crucial when the matter is being handled within the school’s system (as opposed to the courts) so unless they included a name, the student’s identity would be protected by those systems. Protecting your fellow students should be as important as getting the story out. The truth does not require a person’s future be sacrificed, or that an organization’s reputation be tarnished. It requires understanding the big picture and how the events fall within that picture, and hopefully keeping in mind that the picture is always bigger than it first seems.

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