College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the tag “Greek”

The Disappointing Appeal Process (pt.3)-Fixing the System

The campus judicial system is, as a whole, outstanding. If you consider the tens of thousands of serious cases heard each year, and how few true mistakes are made by a board, there is an effectiveness not seen in most systems. However the systems in place must be transparent and allow all parties to be heard fully heard in every step is inherently unfair regardless of outcome. In order to have a fair appeals process that serves and protects the students, some of all of these changes should be adopted.

  1. Completely separate the professional connection between the appeals officer/board and the judicial officer/board. The person orProduce - apples and oranges woman board considering the appeal should have no knowledge of the case prior to reviewing the records and materials for the appeal. If there is a relationship, especially a direct reporting relationship, between the two it is impossible to prevent a respondent from thinking that relationship played a part. It is almost as important that a system seem fair as it is that it be fair.
  2. Allow a ground for an inability to prepare an adequate defense for reasons outside of the respondent’s control.  Most students subject to the judicial process are not developmentally or intellectually able to be effective advocates for themselves, and even if they are this is likely their first time having to do this sort of thing. A student should be able to make a case that he or she did not prepare as he or she should have due to a misunderstanding of the complaint, issues raised at the hearing not provided prior to the hearing, etc. A school concerned with reconsidering every board decision could make the remedy for this ground a new hearing rather than a reassessment of responsibility or the sanction.
  3. Allow an appeal for all sanctions, and not just the most serious. Most schools maintain records of disciplinary violations for well after a student graduates. If a student feels cheated by the system or if there were gross procedural or other errors, he or she should have the ability to challenge the outcome. In order to limit the appeals to those cases where actual errors or injustice exists, make certain the appeals officer/board can increase the sanction as well to prevent this from being a risk-free way for students to appeal everything.
  4. Provide detailed explanations for the finding of responsibility and the sanction in every decision letter. Not only will this allow a student to understand the basis for the decision against him or her, but it will also ensure a more educational process since the board will have to be able to articulate its reasoning vis a vis the violation and the student involved. It will also make it easier to modify a sanction while still maintaining the educational intention if an appeals officer knows the rationale behind  a sanction.explanation-i-demand-one
  5. Loosen the “new evidence” rule.  Currently most systems limit new evidence to that evidence that was unavailable at the time of the hearing, but to a student going through the judicial process relevant evidence may not be clear until the actual hearing. An easy way to adjust this policy would be defining “new” evidence as it currently is defined, but also allowing evidence not predictably necessary based on the response but that can be shown to have been raised and/or considered at hearing.
  6. Make the standard of review the same on appeal as the standard of proof is at hearing. If a respondent can show on appeal that a mistake was made, the review standard should also be preponderance of evidence. If the mistake or error had not been made the respondent would not have had to prove clear and convincingly that they were not responsible so why make them do so now?
  7. Remember that ties go to the student. When a finding of responsibility was made because a student just barely crossed the threshold of more likely than not, the sanction should reflect that level of responsibility. In other words, someone 100% responsible should not ever have the same sanction as someone 51% responsible. If on appeal the decision is too close to call, you should find in favor of the respondent.
  8. Allow students to appeal sanctions no matter what system was used to give that sanction. Many schools have administrative hearings/meetings where students are given the option of accepting responsibility and getting a sanction, but the student almost always must waive his or her right to appeal. This is patently unfair since the student does not have the experience or understanding to grasp the impact of a particular sanction. I have had many clients who accepted a “plea” because they were told that they would get worse at a hearing. If you tell an 18 year old that he could get suspended if he doesn’t accept probation, it would take a highly developed 18 year old to risk a hearing, no matter his responsibility.
  9. Any questions asked of one party or the judicial officer while considering an appeal should be shared with the other party. It is simply unfair to have someone be able to respond to a claim without allowing the other party to hear that response.
  10. Allow suspended students and groups to petition for earlier readmission. For some students and especially some student organizations, the growth and development a board wanted may be accomplished in less time than initially thought. There should be a way for a student to petition for reconsideration during a suspension. I imagine this will be a hard case to make for the suspended student, but it should be possible.

What do you think? Are there other things that could make the process more transparent and ensure that students are given every chance to defend themselves?

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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.

Insecurity and the Appeals Process in Judicial Cases

ImageWhen I was working in student affairs I believed, and told people working on student issues, that there were two types of situations that were the hardest for me.  The first was when someone I truly cared about did something wrong and had to be held accountable.  The second was when someone I didn’t like didn’t do anything wrong, and therefore could not be held accountable.  The first one is pretty obvious, but let me explain the second.

Administrators and faculty are usually experts in their field with extensive education, training, and experience that gives them the right to the positions they hold.  They’re also human.  That means that they think some people are great, some are brilliant, some are weird, and some are just plain jerks.  A mark of a professional is when their personal feelings are almost impossible to find.  I used to say that I was happy if both parties to a dispute though I was on their side or that I hated them, but I failed if only one felt either way. I meant that.  I would see people at their personal and interpersonal lowest, and the last thing they needed was the person they were forced to see (me) judging them.

The problem is that we all have bad days, hot button issues, and egos.  My hot button is when people are accused of sexual assault try to blame the victim, and when it happened it really made me want to launch into someone. However, even on those rare occasions I was paid to get over it and keep it to myself.  What I could do, and the only thing I SHOULD have done, was make sure that everything was in place for that person to go through our process and get the result he should.  That meant making sure he understood everything, that all the procedures were followed, and that there was no bias so that he could have no basis to dispute the outcome.  I might be able to “stack the deck” a little by selecting certain people to be on the hearing board, but for the most part the best I could do to get the outcome I wanted was make sure the people who make the decisions were properly trained and did the right thing.  In other words, when I didn’t like someone or I personally wanted a particular outcome, the most ethical thing I could do was make sure everything was as fair as possible, and hope for the result I wanted.  Unfortunately, that didn’t always work.

A judicial board hearing is an unreliable thing only if you’re looking for a particular outcome.  While “preponderance of the evidence” seems like a pretty low standard of proof (especially if you’re going through the hearing), I have found that boards are not likely to find someone responsible for an egregious violation (e.g. rape or sexual assault,) or for violations that would have a harsh sanction (e.g. suspension or expulsion) if the person is only a little “more likely than not” responsible.  I have actually debriefed with board members who told me that they thought someone likely did something, but that they weren’t sure enough to “end his career.”  Those conversations made me want to grow hair so I could pull it out, but I did the only thing I could and got over it before the next case.

Not everyone can or will move on.  There are people who are amazing professionals, but only as long as things go their way or they like the student in question. Once they have a student or a group they dislike, however, they become vested in the outcome and, consciously or unconsciously, do things to shape the outcome.  I believe that once a person responsible for impartial advocacy students (i.e. all athletes if you’re in athletics, or even the “party” fraternities if you’re in Greek life) then they have to maintain that advocacy no matter who’s involved.  That means if your favorite person says your least favorite person beat them up that an administrator MUST set aside her feelings and give both students the exact same access to the system and the exact same support.  If and administrator cannot do that, then it is her obligation to step aside, or take the proper steps to ensure that things remain fair.  A surprisingly large amount of people will not do that.

There are administrators and faculty who will definitely take steps to ensure that someone or a group they dislike gets “punished” more than others would.  That could meant that they bring charges against someone for something that they would otherwise let go, that they contact the people responsible for the discipline process (or that person’s boss) to make certain that they understand how “serious” they find the situation, or that they even try to influence the board directly to get an outcome they want.  Even in those cases, however, there are usually procedures in place that should protect a student or group from someone’s unethical behavior.

In almost every system there is an appeals process that is supposed to weed out unfairness, correct mistakes that come from someone’s accidental or intentional mistakes, and ensure that a student’s, or group’s, rights were protected throughout.  While that is great in theory, there are several problems with the appeal process as a fairness safeguard:

  1. The standard of review is a lot higher.  This is a little tricky to explain, but essentially the standard for determining whether or not a board or hearing officer made a mistake is higher than the “more likely or not” standard in a hearing.  So even if an appellate group thinks that there is a mistake, that mistake usually needs to be provable to a “clear and convincing” standard (i.e. 80ish percent.)
  2. There is usually a connection between the hearing board and appellate group that impacts the decision of the appellate group.  Usually the appellate group consists of someone one or more steps up on a hierarchy (e.g. if an undergraduate hearing board hears the first case, then administrators hear the appeal; if the Director hears the case, the Dean hears the appeal; etc.)  Worse, this “next step” frequently supervises the person involved in making the mistakes in the first place.  In some cases, this means that to them finding a mistake in the initial decision means that they themselves made a mistake. The more insecure the person (and, unfortunately, many administrators are very insecure) the less likely they will do anything that make them seem “wrong.” Worse, the same person hearing the appeal often had extensive discussions about the case as it was happening and has an opinion regarding it before they read a single fact on appeal.
  3. Sometimes the appellate group knows much less about the process, and therefore takes the opinions of the very people alleged to have made mistakes to help them make decisions.
  4. The appellate group, since most cases that get appealed are “serious” and/or “controversial,” not only considers the case, but also thinks about implications for the school if the student or group sues.  This means that they are much less likely to admit mistakes that could be used against the school than they would if they did not have to consider such things.
  5. Some people are incapable of understanding that a group can be both “responsible” for something and also have had their rights violated, with that violation making the decision unfair.  In other words, once an appellate group decides that the person or group appealing “did it,” then they give much less consideration to any claims of unfairness or violations of rights than they would without that belief.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for these problems.  If you’re in a private school the “due process” owed to you is essentially that the school does what it says it will in its description of the process.  Any school worth its salt will write the process in a way that gives them enough discretion to save them from a law suit, so that route will not likely work in the long run.  Besides, law suits are slow and costly, and any damage done by a decision is likely to be felt before any case is concluded.

Even though I do not have a solution I do have a suggestion, an operating principle, that will help mitigate some of the human and systemic error that occurs:  make all decisions with all “ties” going to the accused party.  A system must be fair and impartial, or else it becomes a kangaroo court meant to punish rather than an educational system meant to uphold values and expectations.  If a person or group cannot be found responsible in a fair system where the only burden is that they “more likely than not” did something, then they should not be found responsible.  If you don’t allow a witness, if you violate the time proscriptions on submitting documents, or you do not allow someone to fully participate in the process the way the rules intend, then those actions CANNOT result in an outcome that would not occur without them.  If it does, you system is unfair, and no appeals process will save it.

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.”

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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.

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