College Judicial Consultants

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

Archive for the tag “sorority”

No blog today, instead we have questions

As the school year winds down, we are wrapping things up here as well so there is no new blog today. Instead I have a few questions that I would love you to answer.

 

1. If you have ever been in disciplinary trouble at school, how helpful were the resources the school provided?

2. If you, your fraternity, or sorority got in trouble this year why did you choose not to get help?

As always you can answer in the comments or email me directly, Davek@collegejudicialconsultants.com.

Be good and have a good weekend!

 

 

 

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Making Timid “Leaders”-Why Failing the Maryland Delta Gamma Shames Us All

By now many of you know about the email sent by the UMD Delta Gamma Social Chair to her sorority sisters where she chastised them for their actions and attitudes during Greek Week. Apparently someone in the sorority shared this email with the public, it went viral, got lampooned, and now the author has “resigned” from the sorority. While there are apparently many people who feel that her actions were “inexcusable,” I believe that the people who should truly be ashamed are the sisters, Delta Gamma national, and any administrators who did not stand up for this woman. Loyalty and support are great values, but if they only exist when things are easy then they are meaningless.


Delta Gamma posted their position on this incident on their website describing the email as “highly inappropriate and unacceptable by any standard” and “as all reasonable people can agree, this is an email that should never have been sent by its author. Period.” I have tremendous respect for Delta Gamma, but they are wrong. The young woman did not make serious threats, there was no promotion of drug use, there was no pornography, there was no hazing, and there was no promotion of illegal activity. The “unacceptable by any standard” content was simply swearing, name calling, and exaggerated threats. When you read the email (which, by the way, is hilarious) what comes across most is the frustration and anger that she’s feeling. She absolutely could have toned it down or used a different approach, but why did she HAVE to? What was more unreasonable, the way she worded her email or the actions that lead her to do it? Her decision to write an email without the false niceties, insincere politeness, and passive aggression we see in most chastising emails may have embarrassed the national organization, but what this reasonable person things should have never been done is for National to have thrown her under the bus. If a national organization cannot rally around a member when she is under intense pressure and publically support her while addressing the issue in private, then what type of loyalty should they expect from members?


One of the reasons we do what we do at College Judicial Consultants is because in most cases, the student support resources and professionals fail students when they need them the most. Most of the time that failure is a result of a lack of resources-it takes a long time to work with one student in crisis and spending that time means you cannot spend it with the thousands of other students who need you. However, there is commonly also a loss of perspective regarding what it is like to be college-aged, and we are losing the lesson that it is how people respond to their mistakes that define them. When a student or organization stumbles, the response should be “what do we need to do to pick them up” rather than shaming them or banning them from the communities. (It is worth noting that UMD’s Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Matt Supple did just that.)

You tried to make us behave better, and because we didn’t like your tone you’re on your own.

There are actions so terrible that by committing them a student irredeemably abandons the community, but this was not one of them. This was a woman frustrated by the failure of her sisters to meet their obligations during a high profile event for which she was responsible. She likely spent weeks during chapter meetings trying to get them to understand their obligations, and made attempts to address behavior prior to the infamous email. When she heard that her sisters were not only failing to meet those obligations, but also doing so in a way that embarrassed the chapter she lashed out while still addressing the specific behaviors. I, for one, would love to know there are more people out there like her.


We need to stop letting style dictate our response and focus on substance. She clearly articulated her frustration and disappointment, but if she would have been phony and polite it would have been praised. More importantly, how does demanding insincerity make someone  a better “leader,” and where is the accountability for the sisters who were behaving contrary to the chapter values during Greek Week? Where is National’s public shaming and abandonment of the people who shared private communication with the world? Where are the campus harassment charges for taking action against the social chair that they knew would humiliate her, and sharing confidential communication against her will to do so? Once again, we praise people who fail to confront openly while vilifying someone who speaks her mind simply because the language used was considered “offensive.” I’m willing to bet $20 that her sorority sisters knew her personality when they elected her, and that none of them were offended by the email.

Can we please stop teaching our women that “demure” is a positive value?


If we want better leaders we must not only allow students to make mistakes, but encourage them to make big ones. We need to praise the efforts behind the mistakes rather than separate ourselves from the people who make them. Otherwise we create leaders too afraid to make big choices for fear of losing their positions, a culture where sharing private information with the world is praised and the person who does so is free from accountability, and the fear of abandonment by anyone who tries to do something other than in a proscribed way. These are not “higher standards,” and the way this woman was handled should shame us all.


How do you respond when a student leader you work with acts in a way you disapprove of? How would you have handled this situation? Let us know in the comments or email me at DaveK@CollegeJudicialConsultants.com.

Be better.

 



Greek Case Study: How to Stop One Member’s Misconduct from Defining Your Fraternity or Sorority

[NOTE: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved. Any relation to a case you may know is purely coincidental.]

Johnny is a junior at a competitive school and a member of a popular fraternity with a physical house. While responding to a noise complaint at the fraternity, the school’s police smelled the strong aroma of marijuana coming from the house. They are allowed in and locate the smell coming from Johnny’s room. They knock, Johnny opens the door, and there are 2 bongs going, scales, baggies, and a half-pound of marijuana. Because the police want to cut Johnny a break they do not arrest him, but they do refer him to judicial affairs for possession, intent to sell, and other charges. Judicial Affairs also refers the case to the Interfraternity Council Judicial Board to address the potential fraternity misconduct.

Johnny is found responsible at the judicial hearing and suspended for a year. At the hearing he reveals that he was dealing, but only to people he knew like his brothers and other friends. Since smoking marijuana is only a citation in the state he figured he could make a little money, smoke for free, and that it wasn’t a big deal. That information is shared with the IFC.

At the IFC hearing, the fraternity says that they “did not know” Johnny was dealing, and that they would never have allowed it in the house if they did. They admit that they knew Johnny smoked, but claim that no other brothers smoke and that they too did not think it was a big deal since “it isn’t against the law or anything.” They admit that they should have stopped Johnny from smoking, but deny responsibility for everything else. They are found responsible for dealing and suspended for 3 years.

___________________________________________________________________________________

So what happened? What could the fraternity have done to prevent the hearing, or failing that, have a much lower sanction? (I’m assuming you know if you deal drugs you risk getting kicked off campus/arrested, and that you’re smart enough not to do it so this is about the fraternity.)

The fraternity did not get in trouble because Johnny was dealing (or even smoking in the house.) The fraternity got in trouble because they did not stop Johnny and thus let Johnny define them. In other words, by allowing Johnny to continue doing whatever he was doing in the house they endorsed the behavior, making that behavior part of the chapter’s culture. Not intervening when a brother/sister does something against the rules or values of the organizations dos not mean you are passively allowing something, it means you are actively embracing that behavior.

Don’t let one brother or sister make all of you into a herd.

When a single member or a small group “go rogue,” you are expected to put a stop to it, and will be held accountable if you don’t. While you can’t stop someone from acting like a donkey, you must stop them from feeling supported or comfortable doing so until the behavior stops OR they leave the fraternity/sorority. When I work with fraternities or sororities I recommend some ways of dealing with this with different levels of severity, but it important that you address it (and move through the options) quickly:

  1. Have the President, VP, Standards Chair, or Risk Manager (i.e. whomever the chapter agreed should address member misconduct informally) talk to the brother/sister and get them to stop immediately and get it out of your house. This will usually be enough, but if it isn’t;
  2. Have an active and effective judicial committee in place to give a formal mandate and sanction. Most chapters I know have someone with a title like “Judicial Chair,” but almost none of them have an active and trained judicial body to address misconduct and keep it in house. Not having one is a huge mistake not only because it is a very useful tool to uphold the values of your chapter, but also because demonstrating the ability to and history of dealing with internal issues will help you if your organization ever gets in trouble. If, after getting the sanction the behavior still does not stop;
  3. Notify your chapter advisor (if that person is unaffiliated with the University) and have him/her speak to the student. This is the “last chance” discussion that should work, but if it doesn’t;
  4. Notify the Greek life office that you have a brother/sister doing something harmful, that you’ve tried to make them stop, and he/she won’t listen. You may still have some accountability for that person’s actions anyway, but I guarantee it will be much less than if you get caught and haven’t dealt with it effectively.

I know it may seem harsh to “offer up” a brother/sister, but when they stop acting like one you can stop treating them like one, and by this point you have given him/her/them plenty of opportunities to change.

When you do not address and correct the behavior of one of more members of your chapter, you should assume you will become known for that behavior. While the necessary conversations to fix that behavior may be uncomfortable, difficult, and hostile, it is a lot easier than proving that the worst of you do not define you.

Do you have any difficult members putting you at risk? Let me know about them in the comments or at DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com!

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.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind–Why Disciplinary Suspension is Not Educational

I do a lot of outreach to student life administrators at colleges and national organizations to let them know about our services for individuals and groups. Occasionally I’ll get a response from one that aggressively claims that our job is to “stop students from having any accountability” and thus “contrary to the “education” of a judicial system.” There are a lot of problems with this accusation, but the biggest one is that the severity of a sanction is not inherently related to the educational merit. If the purpose of a campus judicial system is primarily to educate the person or organization going through the process, then temporarily pulling that student out of the environment where the people most capable of educating him are located makes no sense.

Let’s say Tim Student plagiarizes a paper and gets caught. One of two things is true-either Tim is a completely dishonest person who cheats repeatedly or Tim demonstrated weakness and made a really bad decision. If Tim is a habitual cheater, sending him home for a semester or a year might make him reassess whether cheating is worth the risk, but it will not teach him that it is wrong. It may teach him that the price of getting caught is not worth the benefit of cheating which may be a deterrent, but it is not educational. It’s the judicial equivalent of shocking the mouse if he hits the wrong button. There will be some point where a situation has a benefit that is worth the cost, and Tim will absolutely cheat again. If, however, Tim is like most of us and makes occasional bad decisions, then suspending him teaches him nothing. It does not address the issues that lead to the decision to plagiarize and it separates him from the support resources he would need to develop the tools that will allow him to maintain his integrity in the future. Tim staying on campus allows the school, and specifically the student support professionals, to do actual development work with him.

I should point out that there is also value in sanctioning to protect the students who are doing the right thing. In other words, if someone cheats he should be sanctioned strongly enough that the majority that does not cheat feel justified in doing the “extra” work (i.e. they do not get outperformed by cheaters.) However, if Tim is and will remain a cheater, why allow him back into that community at all? Expelling him sends a stronger message, protects the community more, and makes the cost to Tim even higher. If Tim loses everything and associates that loss with “getting caught,” there will be even fewer things worth that cost and thus fewer times where Tim might cheat again in the future. Expel the cheaters and keep the students worth saving on campus. Of course nobody comes forth and says “I absolutely did this on purpose and will do it again,” so it is difficult to identify the habitual offenders.  A good system should therefore err on the side of helping a responsible student grow and develop into the type of person the school wants their graduates to be. Allowing him to stay on campus can still protect the community. There are many things you can do to someone while keeping them on campus (e.g. fail them for the class, put them on probation for the rest of their career, place a notation on their transcript, mandate self-improvement sessions, etc.) If Tim cheats again or he fails to meet the terms of the sanction, he will reveal himself as irredeemable and then expelling him will make sense.

These same ideas are true with a fraternity, sorority, or other student organization. If a chapter makes a mistake, suspending them for a year does not help them improve. Again, if an organization is dangerous enough to merit removing them from the community for a limited period of time (i.e. suspending them) then why allow them to return at all? If they are a hazing fraternity, suspending them for a year does not protect the students or the community. Expel habitual offenders that are a danger to the community because of their inability or unwillingness to change, and work with the rest to make them better. Suspension neither protects nor educates. We do everything we can to keep an organization on campus so that the very people who criticize us for doing so can help that chapter be what it should.

At College Judicial Consultants we believe that most students or student groups get in trouble, that action is a symptom of a personal or cultural problem, requiring the help and support that separating them from the school does not give. Those students who stray, those students that make serious mistakes, and even those students of flawed character need the support and encouragement of administrators and other authority figures even more than those who do not. Sending them home or suspending their existence as an organization does nothing more than make the lesson “don’t get caught.” Suspending an individual or group treats them the same as the worse offenders, puts them on the defensive, and obfuscates any lessons that are trying to be taught. The solution is a sanction that requires the student or organization to work on the deeper flaws in character or judgment, partner with campus and other officials to do so, and has measurable outcomes to ensure that they make positive change. This is much more difficult, but education is not supposed to be easy.

The Guidelined Dead—Chico State and the Greek system.

I’ve written before about Chico State and the “nuclear option” they used in response to repeated misconduct in the Greek community. Their rebuilding plan following this was released on Valentine’s Day and outlines guidelines that “must be agreed to” by the end of February in order to grant the Greek chapters recognition. In doing so, Chico State attempts to present a reasonable response to both protect itself and also allow the Greek tradition to continue. In actuality, what they do with rigid definitions and intractable minimum responses, is demonstrate a hostility to Greek life. What this does is diffuse the potential student and alumni response to shutting down the chapters while setting the stage to do just that- a practice becoming more common across the country.

I am in no way saying that fraternities and sororities that engage in severe hazing or other serious violations should be protected or immune from consequence. On the contrary, in presentations on next step risk management I talk about how certain activities are never worth the risk and will and should result in a chapter being shut down by the school or national organization. My issue is not that Chico felt the need to respond to what they believed was unacceptable conduct. The issue is that these conditions essentially ensure the end of Greek life, and will allow them to blame the students for that end.

In Chico’s plan, they essentially make anything that happens where 2 or more Greeks live together a chapter event, and any violations that happen at that “event” have a mandatory minimum consequence of a one-semester suspension. This means 2 sophomore roommates in a dorm that have friends from home over are now automatically a fraternity event. No other evidence or intention to do so is needed. This may not be and uncommon “standard,” but where it exists there is some allowances for reasonableness in both determination and response. Here there is neither.

The agreement uses all the language that a Greek community would want like “self-governance” and “student development” while paying lip service to the “rich and significant contributions to the quality of its student life.” However, when you look at the expectations you will see that those articulated principles are made meaningless with the way they define chapter activity and mandate the school’s response. They use the ideals of most chapters-that they are leaders living to higher standards-as an excuse to set unreasonable standards ensuring non-compliance in the future. Greek membership is treated as little more than an interest group (like chess club or Chinese dance) with no real regard for the fact that the lifetime commitment of being Greek means meaningful personal dedication to ideas that both support and surpass those of the university.

Do not be surprised when this draconian “agreement” eliminates cooperation between chapters and the school administration in an attempt to actually improve their chapter. Why would chapter leadership admit any problem when doing so appears to mean that they will be suspended for at least one semester? I am sure the response from Chico State would be “we wouldn’t do that, and of course we’re going to be reasonable” but there is nothing in the new provisions that suggests that anything other than 100% compliant behavior of 100% of the members will allow a chapter to continue to exist. While I think it would be a mistake, I firmly believe that each college and university has the absolute right to abolish Greek life. If they have reached a point where they believe the risks of having a Greek presence is not worth the reward (student retention, academic achievement, alumni donations, etc.) then they should shut it down. However, they should have the courage in their convictions to do so cleanly and openly.

Instead we are seeing campuses across the country doing what they can to make Greek life so untenable that students will either choose not to join or will invariably be the architects of their own demise. One need look no further to Trinity college forcing all Greek organizations to be co-educational, or the University of Central Florida beginning down this same road to get a glimpse of what’s ahead. I hope that students remember that leadership means both demanding good behavior from the people you lead, and also standing up against injustice when it surfaces.

Good luck to the chapters at Chico State. They’re going to need it.

Looking for Greek Life photos for CJC’s website

This is a general plea to all Interfraternity Councils, Panhellenic Councils, Multicultural Greek Councils and National Pan-Hellenic Councils:

I am currently working on revamping the website to add a section regarding what we can offer Greek organizations and I am looking for pictures to use on the site.  They will be used the same way the pictures are used on the home page (i.e. here are images of the people we can help) and if you don’t like the way it’s used for some reason you can always let me know and I’ll take it down.

Fine print: any pictures you send me can potentially be used on the website for any purpose other than to imply an endorsement of our services by a particular organization or school. Sending the pictures does not mean that they will be used, and once you send them they are the property of College Judicial Consultants to be used at any time in accordance with the parameters described above. (i.e. in other words, we may not use them but if we have them we can use them as long as we use them the way I say we’re going to.) 🙂

You can email them to DaveK (at) CollegeJudicialConsultants (dot) com. Thanks!

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!

 

 

Don’t Believe the Hype: Positive Implications of Greek Membership

The AFA (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors) conference is happening right now (11/28/12) in Indianapolis.  There are great programs on expansion, creating change, advising local organizations, restorative justice, masculinity and feminism, social justice and other great topics.  What there aren’t are any programs like the one I’m going to propose for next year.  “Apologize for nothing: addressing the negative impressions of Greek life without accepting them.”

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An article in the Michigan Review details the results of the research done by James Turner at UVA who, after examining the mortality rates of 1150 schools found that for every 100,000 students there were just over 6 suicides and just under 5 alcohol deaths. (Note:  They say “alcohol-related traffic deaths” in the article so my rephrasing may be misleading.  If, as is likely, they specifically mean these types of deaths then when you add alcohol poisoning and the other alcohol deaths then I would imagine they eclipse the suicide rate.  Since the gist of the article is that suicide is the #1 cause of death for college students, that wouldn’t make sense. I’ve therefore made the assumption that they mean “alcohol” deaths.) This got me to thinking about the things I used to discuss with my colleagues on the student crisis teams, and the impact being Greek has on the at-risk students.  Since I’m not in grad school, I’m not going to do actual research studies (although if you do want a great thesis topic, feel free) but I thought I would post my thoughts and invite anyone who knows more to comment.

  1. Alcohol/dependency issues. I think there’s no doubt that Greeks have more students that are assessed in the “dependent” range for alcohol than their non-Greek counterparts.  I do not know if the same is true for drugs, but I assume that it would actually be drug dependent.  For example, I would not be surprised to hear that Greeks smoke more weed, but I would be surprised if they did more psychedelics or abused more pain medication. That being said, they drugs they do use may make them higher users of “drugs” in general. WINNER: Non-Greeks. That being said, I would be REALLY interested in comparing the alcohol consumption and drug use on campuses without Greek life (e.g. Bowdoin, Brandeis, Middlebury) with schools that have Greek life.  I suspect that the actual consumption rates would be similar and in which case I’d have to say “Tie,” but I can’t prove that.
  2. Depression/Suicide.  I think that Greeks are clearly the winners here. No matter how you feel about the types of connections people make in their fraternity/sorority, the fact remains that once you join these organizations you are rarely alone.  You are usually sharing meals and running in the same social circles as a large group of people you like, so I would expect that there is a lot more “dude, what the f*#k is wrong with you” type of intervention than there would be in traditional male relationships. I can actually think of dozens of examples of fraternity men and sorority women supporting their brothers and sisters through disease, parental death, and other situations, and have heard from students directly that they wouldn’t have “made it through” without their brothers or sisters. WINNER: Greeks!
  3. Violence (non-dating):  When you hear of a student writing manifestos, buying guns, or doing other crazy stuff that necessitates a threat assessment, it is almost never a member of a fraternity or sorority.  In fact, find me one example without the word “loner” attached to the description of the student and I’ll be stunned.  WINNER: Greeks!
  4. Inter-Personal Violence (e.g. sexual assault, dating violence, stalking.)  I think the literature makes it pretty clear that Greeks have a higher incident rate for sexual assault (both as perpetrator and victim) but I would bet that stalking is lower mostly because of the ease of intervention both for the perpetrator (“dude!  Let it go.”) and the victim (“That guy’s a freak.  I’m taking you to the police.”) (That bet is based in nothing, so please feel free to correct me with actual data.)  At schools with Greek life I’d have to probably say WINNER: Non-Greeks, but again the difference is narrow (and when you compare numbers of actual students I’ll bet there are more INCIDENTS among non-Greeks) and where there is no Greek life I would be interested to know once again about the actual incident rates to see if there are fewer per capita.
  5. Missing Students. Students occasionally get fed up and “disappear” for a while, usually by staying with a friend or taking a small road trip of some kind. Usually a parent will then call campus police after not hearing from their kid and file a campus missing persons report which triggers a pretty specific (and potentially lengthy) administrative process.  As with the depression/suicide category I would bet that there are many more of these among non-Greeks for the same reasons.  WINNER: Greeks!
  6. Campus Retention and Graduation. This isn’t a crisis matter, but another big issue on campuses is retention.  One of the biggest selling points I see on Greek Life websites is that membership in Greek organizations make a student more likely to complete their college degree. (see, for example http://arizonagreek.orgsync.com/benefits) WINNER: Greek life!

So what’s the point?  College administrators are quick to point out the areas of Greek life where the members are higher risk than non-Greeks, but I can’t think of a single upper administrator who has stood up and said “While drinking may be a bigger problem in the Greek community, membership in a fraternity or sorority decreases the likelihood that a student will drop out, be overwhelmed with depression, or commit suicide.” I’m not saying that you have to be Greek to have a happy and healthy college experience, but I encourage all or you to challenge your administrators, newspaper editorials, or anywhere else that tries to polarize people into “Pro” or “Anti” Greek camps.  Constantly remind everyone that the things that people use to vilify Greeks are also true for non-Greeks while the positive aspects of being Greek are not easily replicated in traditional residential situations.  Schools push co-curricular involvement to get a student vested in the college and the college experience, but completely disregard these benefits so they can talk about “hazing” and “binge drinking”–like that occasional aspect of Greek life is the ONLY purpose of Greek life. It isn’t, and I encourage you to refuse to accept that it is.

NB: A few housekeeping notes:

1.  Go to our website to know more about what we do and what we can offer.  We are working on a separate site/section for student organizations, but the services are similar.

2.  If you are in college (or recently graduated and can remember what you were like in college) please fill out our survey.  It should only take you 3 minutes, but it will really help us.

3.  We are raising funds to (hopefully) tour colleges around the country this spring.  Go to http://tinyurl.com/CJCSpringTour to donate.  Any amount helps (especially since we have no donors at this point.)

4. Like us on Facebook, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIN, and subscribe to this blog for updates!

5.  I think the photo is Kent State Greeks.  Completely snagged off the internet without permission. 🙂

Fraternity and Sorority Misconduct, Chico State, and the Nuclear Option

When I speak with a member of a fraternity or sorority in trouble, I know how serious the next few weeks will be depending on whether or not their hazing accusations included forced drinking or physical abuse.  If the accusations against them are in these areas, it is likely that the school is going to pull out all the stops to punish them, and that their national is going to be involved as part of that punishment. While we have successfully helped fraternities accused of drinking hazing and those accused of “abusing” pledges, the absolute worst thing a fraternity or sorority can do if they want to protect their organization is mix alcohol or violence into their pledge program.  If they use alcohol or violence as part of their pledge program, not only do they risk getting expelled, but none of the usual people will get an organization’s back or help them at all-not their alumni, not their national, not their Greek life administrator, and most certainly not their school.  I know there are fraternities that will keep doing it, and I know that there are differences in degrees of each of these categories, but ANY time an organization involves alcohol or violence into its pledge education process it risks everything. In fact, when you say “hazing” to most people (especially non-Greeks) they will almost certainly mention “forced drinking” and/or “beating” as the very definition of hazing. (Which is why I go bananas when papers print that an organization is “under investigation” for “hazing” without defining what they mean.)

It used to be that if a fraternity or sorority got caught doing something wrong, that organization would be punished.  Their school and/or their national organization would hold them accountable, and they might have members cut from the organization, be suspended on campus, be expelled, or have their charter revoked.  While (and I speak from experience as a Delt at Tulane) that sucks when it is happening to you, it is understood to be the price of doing business.  If you haze knowing the risks and you get caught, you can lose your fraternity or sorority. Those chapters that considered themselves “hazers” knew that, but that isn’t the case anymore.

Across the country we are seeing examples of organizations and entire Greek systems paying for the actions of other individual Greek organizations.  At SUNY Binghamton they suspended pledging this fall before the year began, and at Alabama just after.  At Cornell the University President has adopted essentially a “zero tolerance” stance for any sort of pledging because he sees pledging itself as not just having a hazing component, but a “high risk” component like the one that he believes lead to the tragic death last year.  Trinity College in Connecticut is mandating that all fraternities and sororities go co-ed.  Hundreds of other schools have already banned Greek life.  And, most recently, the President of Chico State banned fraternities and sororities  after the death of a 21-year old “pledge” who died on his birthday because it MIGHT have been hazing. (Message being: if you’re Greek and something tragic happens, it was hazing.)

Fraternities and sororities may have a greater prevalence of certain behaviors than other groups (that’s a different argument,) but once again we see these organizations being scapegoated for larger problems on campus. According to the same op-ed piece written by Cornell’s President there are 2000 alcohol-related deaths on college campuses each year.  (For the sake of discussion I’ll assume that every one of them results from excessive consumption and alcohol poisoning, and not things like drunk driving deaths, exacerbation of medical conditions, or the other things I know actually contribute to that number.)  He used these numbers intentionally, because when he mentioned “hazing” and used “alcohol related deaths” in the same piece the intended implication was that fraternities and sororities “cause” these deaths, and that they are caused because of hazing.  That’s simply not true.  (There’s a good list of hazing deaths throughout time by someone with an axe to grind here.) The fact is that on any given year there are almost no hazing deaths that happen in fraternities and sororities, statistically speaking. I am in no way saying that ANY hazing deaths are acceptable, but if you eliminated Greek life completely ALMOST EVERY ONE OF THOSE 2000 DEATHS WOULD STILL OCCUR.

Campus administration and “anti-hazing” groups also act like the men and women in the Greek Organization can’t decide for themselves what is acceptable behavior. People like to say that 9 in 10 people who are hazed do not consider themselves hazed, with the implication being that they are so brainwashed or beaten that they don’t even realize the reality of their situation.  More likely (from my experience being Greek and from actually talking to Greek men and women) the activities that are considered hazing are either not hazing to the people going through them, or are seen as the same as what is being done in regular social situations.  The very definition of hazing creates a “when did you stop beating your wife” type of logical trap. A common definition of hazing is that hazing is any action “that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule that risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of an (SIC) group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”  (from http://www.hazingprevention.org/hazing-information/hazing-definitions.html)  So whether or not you’re willing to put up with is, being teased or embarrassed by other people in your drop that “risks” emotional harm (e.g. hurts your feelings) is hazing just because you’re in that particular group.

That’s crap.

I challenge anyone to find 5 people in different social circles that have not sat around with their friends and been teased about something to the point where they got uncomfortable or their feelings got hurt.  Take a group of friends that drink and find one of them that hasn’t played a drinking game or had more alcohol than they planned on having at some point. Find anyone who has been involved with a prank on someone  and the target of the prank was not embarrassed intentionally by the prank. Austin Kutcher made a name for himself with a TV show based on this very thing.  I was a comic for a few years here in Boston, and we are merciless when we tease one another because we expect other comics to be able to handle it. Most of us would not talk that way to strangers or share those conversations with our parents. The fact is that what is acceptable when you’re with your friends does not become hazing just because you and those friends are on the same athletic team, chess club, or fraternity.  You do not lose the ability to decide if the actions done to you are “okay” simply because you become part of something larger than yourself.  As long as “hazing” is used to cover everything from nicknames and scavenger hunts to forced sodomy and beatings we will not have a reasonable discussion on hazing AND student members will not take these dialogues seriously. 

If we want to change student behavior to the point where we lesson or eliminate the groups willing to hurt or SERIOUSLY risk the lives of their new members, then we have to draw some hard lines when it comes to defining risky behavior.  We must acknowledge that there is a difference between beating someone into unconsciousness and having the newest people in an organization do the worst jobs in that organization. (One man’s terrible bartending shift is another’s having to clean up at 8am after a party.) We have to admit that there is a difference between “kidnapping” a pledge class and taking them to a party on a different campus on a Friday night, and locking them in a dungeon and lowering lotion to them in a basket.

It is impossible to get member buy-in to an “anti-hazing” program when we treat pledge pins the same way (or at least with the same language and seriousness) with which we treat forced branding.  Let’s have some real honesty and let organizations define the non-lethal/harmful actions that they do during the initiation period while prohibiting the ones we KNOW are recklessly indifferent to health and safety.  Have an organization’s standards be clear during recruitment so that when someone joins he or she know what he or she is getting into. Ban forced consumption of alcohol and physical assault, but if someone knowingly and willingly joins an organization where they are going to get an embarrassing nickname and be yelled at if they don’t know the founding mothers, then let them.  If we draw actual lines of intolerable behavior, but make those lines reasonable and logical then you will find many more students willing to take up the anti-hazing banner. 

Instead you have anonymous hazing hotlines where organizations are held to the standards of acceptability as defined by the most sensitive of us, or by that person’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or parent (or even occasionally by a rival organization.)  This makes organizations that want to improve their programs unable or unwilling to be honest about what they do and find acceptable, in order to eliminate those aspects that they don’t.  If you are a student and don’t believe me try saying “we want to get rid of forced consumption and calisthenics, but we want to make sure we’re yelling enough to have them take our history and values seriously” to your Greek Life office or if you’re an administrator ask yourself what you’d do if a group admitted that the pledges had to clean the house every Saturday, but that they wanted to make the pledges understand that they never have to drink.  Are there other ways? Sure.  It is just insane to me that the same people (administrators) who will admit that abstinence is not a useful means of controlling sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy will preach a “hazing” abstinence to fraternities and sororities.  What’s worse is that this ineffective approach is just increasing the walls of silence between them and the administration.  If you have any doubt that many Greeks feel like they are at war, just ask the students at Alabama, Union, Binghamton, and, most recently, Chico State.

Singling out fraternities and, worse, punishing all of them for what happens at one when those actions happen as or more frequently outside of the chapter house walls does not address the larger issues.  It does not end “21 at 21” (drinking 21 drinks on your 21st birthday), does not eliminate beer pong or other drinking games, or pre-gaming.  It is an easy way to look like you’re “fixing” a very serious problem (alcohol-related deaths) by nuking those organizations that are, at worst, just one reason for that problem.  We would not eliminate all student clubs because the chess team hazes, we don’t end athletics because the swim team hazes, and we don’t shut down a residence hall when a suite throws an illegal party. However, once again Greeks treated like they are all the same people so when a message needs to be sent to an entire campus they are thrust upon the sword. This is not only unfair, it hurts every student on that campus. I applaud those alumni and actives who are standing up against this discriminatory act, and hope a real dialogue can begin soon on the affected campuses.

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