College Judicial Consultants

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Fraternities, Sororities and the cultures that hate them.

(Before I begin this blog I should, in the interest of full disclosure, tell you that I was in a fraternity that was kicked off campus by our national in 1990 when I was a Delt at Tulane. (blurb in Spin from 1991 is here)  We were donkeys, we hazed, and I was a freshman.)

I’ve worked with fraternities and sororities since I went into student life 10 years ago.  Whether I was helping them with events or creating and supporting a judicial system, I have always been pro-Greek.  This meant not only doing what I could to help them thrive, but also pointing out the disparate ways Universities treat Greeks and non-Greeks.  At MIT it meant shining a bright light on the fact that what was unaddressed in the residence halls was enough to create a disciplinary response against a fraternity.  To be fair, part of the reason for that disparity was that the Greeks had their own discipline systems whereas there was not anything in place to address misconduct by a “group” of students without any formal affiliation.  But mostly, it had to do with the fact that Greeks are, and are on all campuses, easy targets.

While only 10% of college students are in a fraternity or sorority, almost every college student has an impression of Greek life and that impression usually has nothing to do with personal experience, but rather come from pop culture and the media.  Fraternities are seen as elitist groups of men who objectify and rape women while doing keg stands next to a beer pong table.  Sororities are filled with beautiful women who like nothing better than engendering eating disorders while being as vapid as possible.  Put them together and you have bullying and homophobic sociopaths who come from money and hate everything that isn’t part of their world. They haze, they drink, they are elitist, they commit all campus sexual assaults, and they cover it all up while drinking out of a 3-story beer bong.

This hyperbolized depiction Greek life seems pretty harmless.  Who cares if people not in a fraternity or sorority (or in college for that matter) think Greeks are jerks?  I know I wouldn’t have noticed a 33 year old giving me the fish eye for wearing my DTD sweatshirt or some rush T-shirt. In fact, there was something kind of cool about being in a “group” like I was with the “jealous GDIs relegated to eating cheese fries in the Rathskeller” while we had Widespread Panic play our rush party. Developmentally, this “us and them” mentality is completely appropriate when you’re 18-22.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the negative impression of Greek life continues with people who eventually go into student affairs and/or become faculty.  If you weren’t Greek, if you didn’t associate with many Greeks, and if you never had a reason to challenge your perceptions, then when you see someone wearing letters you make assumptions that do, in fact, separate them from other students and not in a good way.  You assume you know who they are, and no matter how often they do not validate those assumptions, as soon as they do, you’re convinced you were always right.  (For fun, point out a student that someone anti-Greek likes who is in a fraternity or sorority and see how often they are classified as “not being like the rest.”)  So when a member of a fraternity comes into class hung over, a woman in a sorority gets caught for plagiarism, or Greek issues make national news, that person feels comfortable with their prejudices.  And, over the course of any given year, some fraternity or some sorority somewhere is going to validate that prejudice.

So let me tell you from firsthand experience how that prejudice plays itself out when administration gets together to talk about student issues.  Say a student is transported from a residence hall for alcohol poisoning. The first question asked is “where was she drinking?”  If that answer is “in the dorm” nobody says “there must be irresponsible drinking and faulty management in the dorm.”  If, however, the answer is “at a fraternity house” that group is automatically reckless and has a problem.  If there’s a fight on campus, people ask “what were they fighting about?”  If there’s a fight in a fraternity house, people as “was there a party?”  and “were they drinking?”  If a student is drinking underage in the residence hall that student may have to go to a low level hearing and/or go through some substance education program. Nobody looks into where they got the alcohol, who else was with them, whether there was a party, if that party was within the rules, etc.  If there’s someone found drunk in a residence hall and they went to a fraternity party then the assumption is that they got drunk at that party.  There is little to no investigation into whether they pre-gamed, if they were doing drugs or on medication that resulted in their condition, or any other mitigating factors.  Instead there is an investigation into what the fraternity may have done or not done that allowed someone to become drunk. In other words, when a drug or alcohol issue can be connected to a fraternity, that fraternity is presumed to have at least contributed to that issue, if not directly created it.  Once a Greek organization is involved, there is something to blame for a problem because it is a lot easier than examining institutional issues that may be equally (and likely more) responsible.

I know this is going to sound conspiratorial, but as someone once said “just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they aren’t chasing you.”  I believe a major reason people go after fraternities, in addition to the prejudice discussed above, is because it’s easy.  Most schools have staff in the residence halls who are responsible for creating a safe and healthy environment, promoting learning and development, and upholding community standards.  That usually means student RA staff, a hall director, an area coordinator, an assistant director who oversees the hall directors, and/or a director who oversees the whole thing.  If there’s a problem in the hall there is a disincentive to asking harder questions about the community because a failure within that community means that all the people involved have failed.  However, Greeks are often autonomous and without live-in support so if there’s a problem, it stops with that organization.  Plus, if things get really messy a school can tag in the national headquarters who can come and make the hard decisions.  This keeps their hands clean and keeps them out of the student paper while subjecting the organization to discipline without any of that pesky due process they are entitled to on campus.

Greeks are visable.  They wear letters that identify them, they hang out with each other, they may have their own house that separates them from other students, and they have their own governing bodies.   There are a lot of things that separate them from other students and people like focusing on those things.  What people tend to forget is that there is a lot more that connects them to other student because they are not just Greek.  They are engineering majors, athletes, theater majors, active in SGA, and every other thing that non-Greeks are.  A group of 8 friends live together in a residence hall and nobody looks twice.  A group of 8 fraternity men get an apartment together and it’s an “off campus fraternity house.”  20 friends go to a bar after midterms and they’re decompressing.  20 members of a fraternity go to a bar and it’s a “Greek function.”

In other words, a school has every reason to funnel problems towards the Greek community and away from those “entities” they control.  Plus, if you want to catch a fraternity violating alcohol policy or doing things that are technically “hazing” then you probably can.  I’m sure most organizations have at least a few members that violate policies on a regular basis, with some having more than others.  That being said, get me a group of 100 students chosen at random and see how much better they are.  I’ll guarantee they would have as many violations as any Greek organization.

Fraternities and sororities are handicapped because the policies they violate are poorly defined and/or commonplace across a college campus, whether or not the people doing them are Greek or not.  Nobody will support hazing when that hazing if forced consumption of alcohol, physical violence, or sexual degradation.  But what if it requiring someone to wear a pin or some other uniform that identifies them as a pledge?  What if it’s late night meetings or early clean up of a fraternity house? Is the stress that causes and the mental toll different than paper deadlines, midterms, or two-a-day practices?  Is the pledge pin different than forcing athletes to dress up the day of a game?  Is it different than requiring “business casual” at a student employment job?  Is a party at a fraternity house different than a dorm party?  If so, how?  Underage drinking, casual drug use, and even sexual assault happen across a college campus.  It doesn’t matter if students are Greek, athletes, or LARPers.  No matter what group you look at, you will find things you could go after but most groups aren’t looked at too closely.  People go after Greeks because they can, because almost nobody fights on their behalf once a problem is found, and because most of them have internal systems in place to address misconduct.  If most people are anti-Greek, then even when a system is controlled by Greeks, it can be used unfairly and against them.

That’s where we come in.  We cannot change the culture that singles out fraternities and sororities.  We cannot stop schools from going after low hanging fruit.  What we can do is help a fraternity or sorority navigate their campus judicial systems, negotiate with their national organizations, and help the alumni figure out the best way to help and how they should approach the administration.  Even with our help the system may still be unfair, but we can make sure a particular case isn’t. We have experts and leaders in greek affairs and people who know not only Greek and other organizational discipline systems, but also the institutional culture that takes advantage of them.  Contact us to see what we can do for you.

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Spring break (and how to leave it there)

One of the things that happen when you get older is the number of occasions where you can just “let go” get fewer and fewer. I’m talking about going somewhere and letting go of all your cares and inhibitions and just being in the moment in a way you aren’t the rest of the year.  Not everybody needs to have those moments, but for those who do, they result in memories and stories you share with your friends forever.  As working adults we have vacations, but even then there aren’t really vacation spots where everyone is your age, has a similar job, and is there for the same reason.  Simply put, there is nothing like spring break as a college student.

Whether you’re going to Panama City, Ft. Lauderdale, Cancun, Jamaica or anywhere else where you can have a drink served in a hollowed out coconut, you are there to let go.  When you’re there you don’t have that class you hate, a project due soon, an RA who “is out to get you,” your ex living down the hall, or any other cares.  You just have the moment, and whether that moment is dancing, drinking, going to some lame MTV event where they tell you “everybody make some noooiiiiise!,” or just presenting yourself as the person you want to be as you try to “date,” you simply aren’t thinking of your obligations to your school.  That used to be fine, but it isn’t now.  There are simply too many ways that you can get in trouble, and word of that trouble will reach your campus.  I think alternative spring breaks are great, but let’s be realistic.  Most students will want to let off steam during this time. Whether you’re at Freaknik or doing body shots in West Palm, you probably don’t want to have to explain what you did to your parents or professors, and you definitely don’t want to explain it to your judicial board.  I have some suggestions to help keep you safe and trouble free.  Some of these will just be good ethical suggestions, but here are some ways to make sure you leave spring break at spring break and don’t get in trouble when you come back.

  1. Don’t get arrested.  This seems simple enough, but many spring break locations have been cracking down on underage drinking, public drunkenness, “disturbing the peace,” and other “crimes” that they used to ignore.  No matter where you’re going you should make sure you know the laws around whatever you and your friends plan on doing.  Some places will hold you accountable for whatever happens in areas within your control (e.g., if your friend has marijuana in your hotel room, you are considered in possession of that marijuana.) That fake ID?  The handle of Jim Beam you brought with you?  Jail.  Public urination?  That could be considered “exposing yourself” and be treated like a sex crime.  I’m not saying that any of these things will happen, but take 10 minutes to understand the “nono”s of where you’re going and make sure you don’t do any of them.  Oh, and ALWAYS be polite to the police, hotel employees, and bouncers.  A lot of them want nothing more than to teach some “smart ass” college kid a lesson.
  2. Do NOT post photos or allow yourself to be tagged in any posted photos.  Facebook has been around a long time, but you would be amazed at how many people still allow themselves to be photographed using a bong, passed out surrounded by beer bottles, with an ecstasy grin, an in other incriminating photos.  While I do not believe that you should be held accountable for those actions, many schools will treat those photos like evidence and bring you up on charges for the actions.  This is especially true at any school with an honor code, but most schools have some policy that allows them to address “off campus” behavior as if it took place on campus. So check Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and every other place you share your life to make sure you know what’s being shared.
  3. Remember that intoxication makes consent impossible in almost every jurisdiction, so make sure that what you think is “fun” is not actually “assault.”  While not everybody you have sex with when they are drunk will think of it as sexual assault, the risk that you will commit a crime and, more importantly, ruin someone’s life is always there.  When I used to do programming for men around sexual assault and the issue of consent I talked a lot about this issue. The push back would be that it wasn’t fair that they could be somewhere that people were to hook up and if they chose the wrong person she would then say she was sexually assaulted.  Forgetting for a second that the world doesn’t actually work that way and there are statistically fewer false reports of sexual assault than there are any other crimes, this is REALLY easy to avoid.  As a rule of thumb, if you are drunk or if you think the person with whom you’re making out with is drunk, stop.  Say to that person “look, I think we’re too drunk to go any further, but after we get some sleep…”  If that person is not willing to fool around the next day, there is a REALLY good chance that you were about to commit sexual assault.  If they are, you know you didn’t!  (Also, if they aren’t, being known as the person who wanted to hook up when you and/or she was not wasted is not going to hurt your reputation with other people.)

Spring break should be a blast, and I’m not saying that you have to be a saint.  What I am suggesting is that you minimize the risks when you’re there and make sure that there aren’t any when you return to campus.

But if you do get in trouble, get in touch.  We’ll help.

 

Witness classifications

This is the wrong page.  Sorry!  The post on the war on Greeks is located here.

 

Back when I was the chief judicial officer at MIT, students going through the judicial process would always ask me about witnesses and whether or not they should bring them to a hearing. My answer was always the same. “If they have first hand information about your case that you believe helps you, then yes. If you’re just going to call people to say you’re a good person, it won’t hurt you, but it probably won’t do anything for you.”

During my 4 years in the job I rarely had anyone ask a follow up question, which was good because I couldn’t really give them any more information that that without potentially jeopardizing the system itself. Since that’s not a problem I have now I thought I’d go into it a little more.

There are essentially 2 types of witnesses–material and character witnesses. Material witnesses are people who were either at the incident in question or present during some other point which is relevant to the event. Say you’re being accused of underage drinking at a fraternity party. A material witness would be someone who was at the party itself and can testify to whether or not you were drinking, or someone who saw you that night and whose interaction with you would support the idea that you were not drinking (e.g., your RA or roommate). These are people who have firsthand information about you or the event as it relates to the alleged charges. In addition, a material witness must also be relevant (i.e., have firsthand information that matters). So a person who was at the door and carded you who could testify that you did not have a fake ID would be a material witness, but they would not be relevant to the charge, as I’ve described it. Lastly, your material witness must not be redundant. That means that if there were 10 people at the party who saw you drinking Mountain Dew instead of beer, you will not likely be able to call all 10 to testify about the same thing.

Character witnesses are a completely different animal and are exactly what they sound like. These are people who know you well enough to testify (i.e., “bear witness”) to the quality of your character. Over the years I have seen this range from someone’s mom to the CEO of a fortune 500 company to religious icons. Many schools do not allow this type of witness, and frankly, they are not inherently useful when framing a case. If you think about it, anyone a person would call to be a character witness will almost certainly say good things about them. Since that’s the case, why should the opinion of someone you choose to talk about how great you are matter? Also, good people make mistakes or do dumb things, so your being a good person doesn’t really matter vis a vis the accusations. My rule of thumb is that if someone is going to simply talk about what a good person you are then a letter to that effect usually works as well as in-person testimony. However, there is one huge exception to this philosophy.

If there is an aspect of the accusations against you that become more or less likely to be true depending on a particular aspect of your character, then having someone testify to that aspect of your character may be useful. In other words, if you can make the aspect of your character that the witness will talk about connect directly to the case itself, then you move the character witness closer to the material witness category. In the above example, if the defense was that people saw that you did not drink, you did not act drunk with people who saw you after the party, and that you would have admitted it if you were drinking, then having someone who could attest to the fact that you consistently confess to things no matter the consequences would be relevant.

Witnesses can be an invaluable part of your case, or they can be an unnecessary distraction depending on how you use them. At College Judicial Consultants we can help you identify witnesses that support your case, make certain that those witnesses understand their role, and ensure that they are presented in a way that allows them to be heard by your campus judicial body. This service is part of our full respondent and complainant preparation consultation and can be the difference between being found responsible and/or the severity of your sanction. Check us out at http://www.collegejudicialconsultants.com and contact us to begin your consultation to ensure you have the best chance to achieve the best results.

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