College Judicial Consultants

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A Real Recipe for Disaster-Suppress Student Voices

Dartmouth

Recently there have been some disturbing stories in the news. After last year with the incidents with the Occupy student protesters at Berkeley and Davis, you’d think that colleges would have learned that bad reactions to student frustration elicits a stronger reaction than the protests themselves.

Nope.

In a time where some educators and former student activists lament the apathy of this generation in America, some schools are using their campus judicial system to punish students who are protesting actions by the Boards or what they see as insufficient action by administration. Using the system in that way is dangerous because it stifles the voice of the leaders of the new generation, sets a precedent that will silence student voices for years to come, and completely undermines the credibility of the judicial system itself. To be fair, the student protesters may have technically violated the rules regarding protests or trespass or embarrassed the school at key times, but the solution to these violations is creating a “teachable moment” and not creating a disciplinary record that may keep them out of graduate schools, deny them employment, prohibit them from getting government clearance, and keep a record in the judicial office for years after they graduate. While the students’ choice of methods may be unfortunate, using the campus judicial system against them violates the entire that system, not to mention completely invalidates the school’s attempt to develop leaders.

A good campus judicial system is supposed to be an educational response to violations of the values and expectations of the campus community. Since that is a fairly nebulous concept, rules are put in place that are meant to reflect those values and/or ensure the health

mgid-uma-content-mtv.com-1563423and safety of the campus community as a whole. A good system also allows administrative discretion to make sure that people aren’t using the nuclear option against students when diplomacy would work. It is that aspect that has failed here, and I cannot believe that the failure is accidental.

One of the most amazing experiences you can have as an educator is watching as a student realizes that he or she can make a difference. Schools almost universally establish co-curricular goals of giving students the tools they need to become leaders, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. Schools have offices dedicated to leadership development, entrepreneurship, and service learning to help train those students passionate about making change in their local or global community, and to inspire others to become so. Unfortunately, to today’s generation, the idea of a metaphorical “suggestion box” just isn’t good enough. In a world where you can use social media to directly connect with Donald Trump, Lady Gaga, President Obama, and Speaker Boehner, having to walk up the chain of command is seen as slow, unnecessarily complex, inefficient, and simply not good enough. This is especially true if the issue involves social justice, ethics, or what is viewed as recurring or imminent harm. On the one hand, it is important that passionate students be taught effective ways to voice their displeasure, engage the help of the right people, and do it in a way that allows change to occur. Administrators might argue that the students are being punished because they went outside of the accepted methods of protest and created a disruption that was unacceptable, and perhaps did so without trying to accomplish things the “right”way first. With all due respect, that is a terrible reason to actually punish students.

The simple fact is that schools are, in many ways, a business. Their “widget” is education and it is an amazingly valuable widget that I love, but it is a widget nonetheless. There are some schools that do a great job walking the line between corporate thinking and the ivory tower ideas of the past, but many of them do not have that luxury. Some schools have placed people in upper administration that are business people first and educators a distant second, if at all. So the administrative hierarchy is filled with more red tape and obstacles at a time when society is tearing those down. This has made it very difficult for students to find consistency and transparency, and has actually increased the frustration many of them feel. While a school should want even the most frustrated students to voice their concerns the “right” way, if students do not feel that those ways work, there has to be an awareness by those schools that the student perception is at least partially their fault.

If students identify what they see is a problem and they try to work to resolve that problem with little or no success, what do we want them to do? What would a leader do? Once that group has spoken to the right people and been told that “their concerns are noted and appreciated” but the looming deadline to affect change approaches, how are they supposed to ensure that they are not simply put off until the subject of their concern has already taken place. Cooper Union, for example, will be charging tuition for the first time ever and that was a done deal before the first student or alumnae could raise her voice.

In a time where most good people object quietly to the injustices they feel, we have the opportunity to raise a group of change agents willing to take vocal stands against those same injustices. We may not agree with them, we may not like their positions, and we may 21baruch-cityroom-blog480-v2not approve of their methods, but we sure as hell should not actively silence them. Silencing discontent does not eliminate the problem; it exacerbates it. The global community is full of those examples—Turkey, Egypt, Syria, China, etc. When you stifle one voice aggressively those people who were simply content to watch start choosing sides, and the last thing an administration wants are students that lose faith in their ability to advocate for them. It’s simple—if the administration does not have the students’ back, the students will cut administration out of their process.

Now, I am in no way saying that any student action should be accepted without consequence. There are clearly things that a dissatisfied student could do that not only should be addressed swiftly and severely, but must be. However, as long as the student actions do not impact the ability of other students to pursue their own interests using the campus judicial system is the wrong response. Yes, in other countries or in the streets of this country a protester can expect to face some sort of legal consequence, but college campuses should be different. In the long run, disciplinary probation will not be a big deal to most people, but students do not know that. Most students believe that being on probation will hurt them down the road, and every administrator knows that belief exists. If the students punished in these cases don’t care about being put on probation, you can bet the administration knows that other students will. Punishing these students is more about making sure that any future student who gets frustrated to the point of taking action thinks twice. Administrators know that many of them will simply suffer in silence thinking that the risk isn’t worth it, and that they will therefore not have to deal with these types of situations in the future.

If colleges do not encourage students to vocalize dissent, there will literally be no place left that does.

What do you think? What should students do if they feel that they are being ignored or simply being paid lip service? What should colleges do to reinforce the idea that there are “right” ways to do things?

I should also say that if you are in trouble for protesting at your college, we will help you navigate your judicial process for 30% off our normal prices. Keep fighting the good fight.

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We Are the 5% Solution

We recently were featured in an article in The Dartmouth. The journalist, Ms. Amanda Young, discussed what we do and then spoke with their Director of Undergraduate Affairs, Mr. Nathan Miller, and Ms. Jessica Womack, a junior on Dartmouth’s “Committee on Standards (COS),” to get a sense of whether or not we are a resource that Dartmouth students should use.  It was a fair article with both Mr. Miller and Ms. Womack saying what you would expect from people in their positions.  Neither of them thinks that a student needs to use our services to get through the process; although they both seem to acknowledge that a student should use anything he or she can to maximize their readiness for the process.  While that position is inherently contradictory, since we essentially agree with them I thought I’d explain it.

To make the math easy, let’s say that, on average, 5% of college students get into some kind of trouble each year.  This trouble can be anything from the silly (violating copyright through “illegal” downloads) to the horrible (sexual assault.)  To make it even simpler, let’s pretend that Dartmouth has 2000 students so each year 100 of them get in some sort of trouble.  Ms. Womack and Mr. Miller both think that the process works well and that the support offered is sufficient for the students involved.  Let’s say they’re right, and give them an A on their process and the support offered.  That means that there is a 95% rate of what I call “sufficient fairness” where the resources and the process are enough to ensure that a student is prepared to obtain the best result possible. That would be an amazing system, and something that the people on the COS (like Ms. Womack) and the person responsible for the process (Mr. Miller) should be understandably proud.  In fact, at College Judicial Consultants we assume that every system is at or near 95% with the people involved in the process acting beyond reproach and really doing the best they can for students.

That still leaves 5% of the time where some additional help is needed or would help a student be more prepared.  Using the numbers above that means that at Dartmouth every year, 5 students could benefit from competent outside help.  In other words, it is completely consistent for the world to have judicial systems with an efficiency and customer satisfaction rate higher than almost anything offered anywhere by anyone, and also that the students subjected to that system could on occasion, use help and support beyond that system. We are here for that 1%, 3%, 5% or higher percent of the cases where the resources either are not sufficient or the student/student organization cannot use them fully so they are, in practice, not sufficient.  We are not trying to suggest that systems are out to get students or are happy when a student organization gets screwed over. We believe that systems of accountability are good things, managed by good people who work hard, and adjudicated by good people with the best intentions.  The problem is that sometimes that isn’t enough.

I can hear the defensiveness of some of our critics now “you’re just making up numbers!” Correct. I did. I have no way of knowing how many students that have gone through a process believe that they understood it all, did everything they should have, and would change nothing about how it went.   I do know, however, that if systems were perfect there would be no need for an appeal process.  If everything worked out as it should AND the students subjected to it were always satisfied with the result, they wouldn’t want to appeal because there would be no need. However, the appeals process is there for when a student believes that something very wrong has happened, and that the result is unfair. (I talk about appeals in an earlier blog so I won’t go into it more, but if you don’t see this point let me know and I’ll explain more.)

We love to assign blame in this country. If something isn’t working, or if there is a breakdown in something that does work, we love to point to someone and say “this is why it doesn’t work.”  If a student thinks the system is unfair, then it is that student or that fraternity that is “broken,” not the system. ($5 to the first person who can send me an article where the upper administration of a school, before any legal action began, said When we say that systems with underprepared participants are inherently unfair, we are not criticizing the people involved in that system (usually.)  We believe that most systems are inherently fair and that almost administrators and board members are trying to get the right result.  In fact, we count on it.  Our fundamental belief is that no matter how fair a system is the outcome will not be fair if the person subjected to it is not able to use it fully.  We are not challenging the fairness of a system when we say that.

Schools do have varying levels of support–some have advisors they train on the process, student advocates who help they prepare their responses, and other resources to help a student be prepared.  As I’ve said, in most cases they are probably fine and will be enough help.  However, when something is really serious, when a student or student group feels that they want someone who’s goal is to help them minimize the sanction against them or make sure they are not held accountable for something they didn’t do, when they want judgment free help, or when they just don’t trust the resources, we are here.  We have seen thousands of cases in different kinds of systems.  We have seen administrative hearings (run them in some cases,) all student boards (advised/created them in some cases,) boards made up of faculty, staff and students (trained them in some cases,) and “special” boards made up of more highly trained people to hear more serious cases (and served on them in some cases.)  We study the judicial system of every client’s school, and by the time the hearing happens understand it better than almost anyone. More than that, when we help a student or student group, our only obligation is to them.  We have no obligation to disclose and will never tell anyone what our client tells us, a promise that administrators simply cannot make. We also do not care about any political pressure on an office to deal with hazing, the anger of a faculty member about allegations of academic misconduct, the ego of a dean who believes that he should be able to control student behavior, or any of the other things that consciously or subconsciously shape a system. It is also worth noting that we encourage our clients to ALSO take advantage of the resources on campus.  Go to the counseling center, the academic resource center, your RA, and get yourself a hearing advisor so you don’t have to sit there alone!  Just don’t think that any of them have the combine expertise, experience, and knowledge that we do about Greek life, judicial systems, and case preparation.

If you have any questions about what we do and why we do it, email me.  We try to be as transparent as possible, so if we are doing something and you want to understand why, just ask. You can email me at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or the office in general at Info@collegejudicialconsultants.com, or you can call us at (617) 287-8782.

A Different Approach to Hazing On Campus

On April 12, 2012 Mr. Snowden Wright wrote an article in the NY Daily News he calls “In Defense of Hazing.”  It was written in response to the situation at Dartmouth’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapter brought to light by Mr. Andrew Lohse that described activities that would shock the conscience of most people.  Having dealt with fraternity hazing in every capacity imaginable (I was hazed, I hazed, I helped students stand up against hazing, I held organizations accountable for hazing, and I have helped organizations defend themselves against charges of hazing) I imagine that the two positions in these articles will define the discourse in the foreseeable future, with most people understandably falling into Mr. Lohse’s camp.  It is hard to defend Mr. Wright’s article as is written, but I do think the fact that his article is not wholly without merit should be discussed.  The problem I see is that hazing is not a “thing” with a singular definition as much as it is a continuum, and there should be some latitude for allowing adult students to make informed decisions even if those decisions are not in accordance with public values.

I do not want to be misunderstood here:  I think that hazing that intentionally causes physical or lasting mental harm is criminal.  I think hazing activities that are done against someone’s will, especially after that will is voiced, are criminal.  I think that forced consumption of alcohol is inherently dangerous, and is therefore criminal.  I think that thoughtless hazing, even if not inherently dangerous, pretty much ensures that a fraternity (or sorority) declines and the organizations is fragmented.  It is counterproductive to team building, and becomes mere sport for those hazing rather than an educational experience to increase the connection of an individual to a fraternity’s values and brotherhood.

I do not, however, think that “requiring” someone to endure activities meant to be challenging, funny, or that test someone’s resolve for joining an organization for life is inherently bad. By treating hazing as a singular thing where the only “positive” action is to not do it, we do the same thing we do with drinking.  College students, and most adults, can differentiate between “Beam lines” where a group of 9 men have to finish a 5th of alcohol by the time it reaches the last brother, and wearing shirts with nicknames on them.  Pretending otherwise forces hazing into the dark corner of private spaces where the people doing it cannot seek help to ensure that their actions do not fall into the reckless or criminal categories.

There are many people who never joined a Greek organization and for whom the idea of being woken up at 3 am by a voice on the phone shouting “CREED!” at you seems ridiculous.  The idea that you would stand in a room of people you call your “brothers” as they yell at you and pelt you with bread rolls or green beans as you try to get the names of the founding fathers right, seems inane and against the very notion of “higher education.”  We had pledge pins. We had nicknames. We cleaned the house after every party by 9am. We had midnight meetings at the fraternity house. We had to clean bathrooms and the (much grosser) stove vent hood.  We were always “on call,” and if anyone ever called and asked us a question or needed us we had to do it…if we wanted to be in the fraternity.  And we did.

And therein lies the crux of the problem.  For some reason we do not think that 18 year old men and women have the ability to say “no” to things they find objectionable.  Most laws and policies on hazing state that the willingness of the people hazed to the hazing activities is not a defense to the hazing.  That clause is there to ensure that the victims of horrific acts are not pressured into saying they did it voluntarily, and to protect them from harassment and bullying.  It’s a good clause.  Unfortunately it overshoots and makes it so that NO activity that is determined to be hazing can ever be defended.  If you get accused of “hazing” for something ‘light’ (e.g. a photo scavenger hunt) then the only defense to it is to lie.  Pledges saying “it was the best time we’ve had” are not a defense. “The brothers did it too” is not a defense.  If anything called hazing happened it is hazing, and all of the sudden you’re in the same category as the students in AEPi from Boston University. So you lie.

And what about drinking?  As I said, I do not believe that people should be forced to drink…ever.  If someone is drinking, and they had enough, then not only should they be able to stop, but the people with whom he drinks should encourage stopping.  However, we all know there are some big drinkers out there.  (Whether or not there should be is a totally different discussion.) They are in fraternities and sororities.  They are on the rugby team.  They are in the military.  They go to law school.  They are teachers.  They are priests.  They were me and my friends, and when I went looking for a fraternity I looked for guys I thought were interesting, that had women I liked who liked the fraternity, and that liked to have a good time because that’s what I wanted.  It’s why everyone in my pledge class joined, and so when the challenge was put out there on a Saturday afternoon to do a “kill a keg” against brothers we had to rock/paper/scissors to see who would have to sit it out.  We were pledges but they were brothers so how was our participation hazing while theirs was just a stupid decision?

I think Mr. Wright tries to defend activities that are hard to stomach (no pun intended) but he does make a few points worth noting.  First, we need to separate from the definition of “hazing” those things that are normative behavior of at least a subset of the student population.  Let’s stop pretending that making people wear pledge pins or clean the place they hang out is the same thing as duct taping them in a room, beating them and throwing fish sauce on them.  Let’s stop pretending that making the 10 newest people in an organization work a formal is the same thing as throwing feces at them.  And let’s stop pretending that the definition of “forced” activity should be defined by the person who incorrectly understood his or her limits.  It’s called paying your dues, training, preparation, or 100 other euphemisms in the other contexts in which it’s found.

(This is the part of this blog where I feel obligated to remind everyone that I am NOT condoning all the stuff I mentioned above like beatings, dangerous exposure to the elements, forced criminal activity, forced consumption of alcohol, etc.)

Every one of the “broad” hazing types is found in “adult” life.  When you start in student affairs you will likely be “on call” at least a few times a semester.  That means you carry a cell phone with you at all times and, no matter when someone calls you, you have to be ready to do whatever is necessary.  If you work in student activities you’re probably the person who handles “alternative programming” which means you work weekend nights until someone new comes in and you no longer have to do it.  If you work in a blue-collar job or you’re a server you get the worst shifts. When you play a sport you don’t get a “choice” about calisthenics.  You do wind sprints, you go to the gym, you do push ups, and you frequently do them until you either throw-up, or wish you did.  When you go to college, at least once a semester, there’s a time when every class you have schedules the biggest tests at the same time so you have to lose sleep and memorize extra information so you “pass” and can move on (i.e. finals.)

It probably seems stupid to compare these things to hazing because they are “part of the job” or “what you signed up for.”  They are usually for a higher purpose (e.g., student safety, vocational advancement, more money, etc.) and people know what they’re getting into.  The other people doing it have already “paid their dues,” and if all of the sudden we insisted that the new server got every holiday off and the 10-year person had to work them it would be unfair.

So why can’t 18 year old men and women make the same choice?  I know enough development theory to understand that they are not in the same place as 1st year legal associate who has to work 70 hours a week to bill 40, but to me that means they need reinforcement of their right to say “no” and “opt out,” not that the should be protected from choice.  It means that Greek life would be better served if we came up with broad “permitted hazing” categories, and an organization could talk over their plans with the people who know the most about the topic.  When someone was recruited by an organization, the fact that there will be ordeals and what those ordeals are would be part of that recruitment.  Do you want to join an organization that has no late night or weekend activities?  No problem!  Here are 2 that do that.  Do you like to do those things Mr. Wright characterized as being like “Fear Factor?”  No problem!  Here are 3 that push you physically and enjoy trying to gross each other out.  Do you like being hit and forced to drink until you might die?  Sorry, we don’t have those because the ones that did were rightfully closed.

We let 18 year olds join things they know might kill them (the military, Alaskan fishing boats, the porn industry) but we can’t trust them to speak up in a system that would vocalize expectations, have an established method and procedure of opting out, and trained professionals to oversee the activities?  Of course we can.

So why don’t we?  The answer, I believe, is simple.  Law suits and insurance costs.  It’s much easier to ban an activity than it is to try to nail down some acceptable limit, if your goal is to prevent the school (or national organization) from getting in trouble.  So schools say they have a “zero tolerance” for hazing and, when they catch an organization doing some of the lighter stuff they act with furious vengeance, but that doesn’t actually save them from anything.  Even if they were as strict as possible and that was effective, it doesn’t shield them from liability.  What it does is forces the worst offenders to hide themselves even more effectively.  Administration does not work 24 hours a day, and even if they did they could not be everywhere at once.  Let each school determine its own lines and enforce them.  We rate movies, TV and video games, and “obscenity” is not every piece of skin shown on TV.  Sure, some college students are going to agree to do things you would have NEVER done, but that’s their choice.  They should be protected from surprise, and from inherently or recklessly dangerous activity, but everything else should be up to them.

That being said, SAE at Dartmouth did some nasty crap, and kudos to Mr. Lohse for saying “enough.”

SIDE NOTE:  We are looking for students to be part of our street team beginning now, but especially beginning at the end of summer and through the upcoming school year.  Get 10% of the referral cases in your pocket, be eligible for incentive rewards, and help your fellow students have the best chance for the best results.  Contact us for more information.

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