Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hazing Prevention - Time to Move the Fulcrum Closer to the Object

Fulcrum (n) - The point or support on which a lever pivots.

One of the basic laws of engineering is that in a lever mechanism (as depicted above), the closer the fulcrum is placed to the object to be moved, the less force is required to move it.  The graphic depiction above demonstrates this idea very simply – the man should be able to move the stone with minimal effort given the fulcrum’s proximity to the object being moved.  But if that fulcrum were moved away from the stone, the force required to move the object would increase accordingly.  It’s a pretty basic principle.

My friend Aaron Boe likes to talk about this concept as it relates to sexual assault prevention.  If you don’t know Aaron or haven’t seen his work, you need to. There is no one better at talking to college men about sexual assault.  He uses the analogy of the fulcrum to help prioritize prevention efforts.  In a time of limited resources, how can you move your prevention efforts (the fulcrum) as close as possible to the behaviors you want to prevent (the object)?  In the example of sexual assault, Aaron eloquently argues that the most effective prevention efforts should be designed to help college men understand the harm that can be caused by non-stranger sexual assault, and to confront the rationalizations and mechanisms by which a guy might justify taking advantage of an intoxicated female.  These two things will do more to prevent sexual assault than anything else.  Unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time and energy on prevention efforts with the fulcrum far removed from the object (i.e. sexism in the media or hyper-masculinity). These things are important to address, but the effort required to change those things in a way that would significantly alter our ability to prevent sexual assault requires tremendous effort and resources.  If you don’t have tremendous effort or resources, then you need to move the fulcrum (your prevention efforts) closer to the object (the thing you want to change).

I have thought a lot about this notion as it relates to hazing prevention. We spend a tremendous amount of time, energy and money in our efforts to prevent hazing. But how far have we moved the stone? A look at the headlines and the statistics would lead one to believe that the stone hasn’t budged. 

Where are we spending our time, effort and energy as it relates to hazing prevention?  Speakers who talk about hazing being inconsistent with our values? Bystander training? Consultants who talk about authenticity and vulnerability? Stickers and buttons during National Hazing Prevention Week?  All of these are great, well-intentioned prevention efforts, but how closely are they positioned to the actual prevention of hazing?  That is, in the moment when hazing is about to take place, how likely is it that those efforts are going to have any impact on whether or not a student decides to haze or decides to allow him or herself to be hazed? It is a rhetorical question, and I encourage you to answer it for yourself.

So where should we place our fulcrum in relation to the objective of moving the boulder known as hazing?  I have two thoughts:

The most important thing we can do to prevent hazing is to decrease the level of hazing that new members of organizations are willing to tolerate in order to belong. Fraternities, in particular, are incredibly sensitive to this notion of hazing tolerance. They know and understand exactly where the line is with regards to what their new members will tolerate before leaving the organization. They will frequently walk right up to that line, but rarely cross it. Crossing the line means losing future members of the organization.  The line is different for every chapter, and it is based on a variety of factors (social status, focus on the solidarity aspects of brotherhood, etc.). The extent to which we can move that line of acceptable behavior will go a long way in our efforts of preventing dangerous hazing.  In a previous blog post, I’ve argued for a membership model that curbs the absolute power of fraternity members over their pledges.  I think that is the single most important thing we can do to address hazing.

Secondly, our educational programming needs to directly attack the mechanisms by which students justify and defend hazing behavior.  The only way to get hazers to think differently about hazing is to directly confront the logic that they use in perpetuating the practice. My research with Josh Schutts has shown incredibly strong relationships between moral disengagement and hazing. The mechanisms of moral disengagement (i.e. advantageous comparison, diffusion of responsibility, attribution of blame, and dehumanization) are directly responsible for the fact that fraternity members can engage in incredibly dangerous and violent behavior in the name of fraternity, but outside of that context are good, decent people.  We have to directly attack and confront the logic that allows hazing to persist. The program that I present on campuses, “The Five Great Hazing Myths,” is designed to do just that. But you don’t have to bring me in as a speaker to confront hazing logic.  Here are the five myths that I confront in my program:
  1. Hazing builds Brotherhood/Sisterhood (It only builds certain kinds of brotherhood, and not the best kinds)
  2.  It isn’t hazing because our new members willingly participate (Talk about the power of conformity and obedience to authority)
  3. Hazing teaches respect for the organization (turns out, it doesn’t)
  4. Hazing builds commitment and loyalty (again, turns out it doesn’t)
  5.  Hazing is a tradition in our group (Really? Since when?)
This post is not intended to be a sales pitch for my hazing program.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The point of this blog is to help you think differently about how YOU are working to prevent hazing on YOUR campus. How are you moving the fulcrum closer to the object?  I encourage you to spend some time thinking about this concept as it relates to all of the prevention work that you do. Our collective efforts in preventing hazing require that we begin addressing this issue in a smarter, more effective manner. Moving your fulcrum closer to the object is a great place to start.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hazing and Psychopathy - The Richie Incognito Story

Psychopath (noun) – a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, and failure to learn from experience

I have watched with great interest as the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito hazing and harassment scandal has unfolded over the last several days.  Hazing in professional sports is nothing new – every year, there are numerous news reports making light of rookie hazing.  From silly haircuts to locker room pranks, hazing in the NFL is on public display.

But the Martin/Incognito story is different – the behavior being reported in Miami goes beyond rookie hazing and into the realm of workplace harassment.  One player has left the team, and the alleged perpetrator has been indefinitely suspended.

The person at the center of this story, Richie Incognito, is a character worthy of examination.  His history of abuse has been well-documented. After being suspended twice at the University of Nebraska, he was eventually dismissed from the team.  He transferred to the University of Oregon, but was booted from the team before ever playing a game.  He was eventually drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams.  He was let go by the Rams after head-butting two players in 2009, landed with the Buffalo Bills, was let go after three games, and landed in Miami.  He has led the league in personal fouls, penalties, and in 2009 was voted by his peers as the “Dirtiest Player in the NFL.”  Some resume’.

I’m no psychologist, but I have spent a significant amount of time in the last few years studying the psychological elements of hazing.  Most of what I read, write and talk about deals with the group dynamics of hazing – how individuals disengage from their moral selves and engage in behavior that they think benefits the group, and how group dynamics encourage this sort of behavior.  But there is no theory in social psychology to explain Richie Incognito’s behavior.  Nothing he is alleged to have done could be described as having any benefit to any individual or to the Miami Dolphins as an organization.  Taking the facts of the current case into consideration with his long history of violence, anti-social behavior and egotism, I cannot escape the thought that Richie Incognito must be a psychopath.

All of the warning signs are there. Violent behavior? Check. Huge ego? Check (check out his twitter page if you don’t believe me).  Anti-social? Check. Failure to learn from experience? Check. Lack of ability to love or establish meaningful relationships? Not a lot of friends or loved ones coming to his defense right now, are there?  You get the idea.

Here’s the problem with psychopaths – they are everywhere. They could be anyone.  They are hiding in plain sight. Some have suggested that “successful psychopaths” may attain prominent positions in society, and are well-represented in fields like business and politics. In fact, the odds are pretty good that you have a sociopath in your life, maybe one in your organization.  If you are in a fraternity, there is a very high chance that you have a psychopath in your chapter.

You probably know who it is after only a second of thought.  A lot of people may participate in hazing, feeling it a needed “rite of passage,” but the psychopath is the guy who actually seems to enjoy abusing the pledges. His hazing isn’t limited to fun, games and pranks – he is the guy who screams at pledges, throws things, curses, and does everything in his power to make their lives miserable.  He is the guy that can be funny at times, and people seem to tolerate him, some people may even like him and think he’s a great guy, but he doesn’t actually have close friends.  He may occasionally hook up with girls, but he has never been in an intimate and loving relationship.  You've been waiting since his freshman year for him to “grow out of it,” but he doesn’t seem to be changing his behavior. In fact, it may have become worse. Chances are, you have your very own Richie Incognito in your chapter.  It might be that you have more than one.

The Miami Dolphins are learning, in an embarrassing public spectacle, the lesson of what happens when you allow a psychopath to run amok in your organization. The extent to which team leadership knew of the specifics of Incognito’s abuse of other players remains to be seen, but they knew that he was a psychopath long before they offered him a job.  He was allowed to abuse rookies with little to no regard for any rules or consequences.  And now a player has suffered what appears to be an emotional breakdown. Some Miami Dolphin players are coming to Incognito’s defense, but their effort seems more of a shallow defense of the system rather than a heart-felt defense of the man.

What can we learn from the Dolphin's mistakes?

If you have a Richie Incognito in your chapter, I have one piece of very simple advice for you – get rid of him. By all means necessary.  If your chapter cannot muster the will to expel him, then ask your advisors or national volunteers for help. At the very least, get him placed on involuntary alumni status and get him away from your new members. If you allow a psychopath to have unfettered access to the new members of your fraternity, then you are playing with fire.  A college fraternity is one of the most dangerous environments in which a psychopath can live.  There, he runs the risk of not only hazing, but sexual violence, vandalism, and all manner of physical abuse and fighting. Keeping a Richie Incognito around in your organization is asking for trouble.

I suspect that the Richie Incognito story will be a watershed moment for the NFL. Their “head in the sand” approach to hazing has finally met its logical end. Someone has been hurt. An NFL locker room is a work place.  Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito were/are employees of a company. Workplace harassment in the form of hazing is still workplace harassment, and it is illegal. The hypocrisy of NFL brass, including coaches and owners, is on full display in justifying rookie hazing. Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin publicly denied any knowledge of rookie hazing, despite the fact that hazing in the Dolphin’s locker room was on national display in last year’s season of HBO’s Hard Knocks.  How’s that for keeping your head in the sand?  Football analysts on ESPN, who have frequently made light of rookie hazing, are now indignant.  Why? Because someone was finally hurt?  We all knew this was coming. So many people – NFL officials, owners, coaches, other players, analysts - have had an opportunity to keep this from happening, and all of them have ignored the problem. Now it is a problem that can no longer be ignored. The NFL must adopt a hazing policy, and it must do so immediately.

The NFL will act, and so should you. No more Richie Incognitos. It’s time to take a stand. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hazing's Perfect Storm - The American College Fraternity

We are all familiar with the meteorological term known as the “perfect storm.”  It is that rarest of phenomena in which multiple weather abnormalities converge in just the right place at just the right time to create a weather event of terrific magnitude.  The term “perfect storm” has been generalized in modern culture as a catch-all phrase used to describe any situation in which circumstances align themselves to produce rare, and often dramatic, events. 

The title of this article may lead you to believe that my intention is to suggest that hazing is uniquely a problem with fraternities.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The National Study of Student Hazing demonstrated that hazing exists in a large number of organizations on the college campus.  The study showed that hazing is more prevalent in varsity athletics than it is in fraternities, and demonstrated that nearly half of all students involved in clubs and organizations in college have experienced hazing in high school.  Aldo Cimino (http://www.aldocimino.com/) has documented the evolutionary psychology of hazing, arguing that the hazing of newcomers in groups is ingrained in human behavior, and that virtually all groups engage in some form of newcomer hazing.  Hazing is certainly not a fraternity, or even a college, problem.

The NSSH findings, while exonerating fraternities from the title of “most likely to haze,” belie an inescapable truth – the most egregious cases of hazing, particularly those resulting in serious injury or death, belong almost exclusively to fraternities.  The obvious exception to this rule is the 2011 death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, who died after being beaten in a hazing ritual known as “Crossing Bus C.”  In scanning the list of hazing deaths in the United States (http://www.hanknuwer.com/hazingdeaths.html), one must go back another ten years to find the next non-Greek casualty on the list – the 2001 death of University of Minnesota-Duluth rugby player Ken Christiansen.  During the ten years between Christiansen and Champion, there were 31 fraternity-related hazing deaths in America.  Sororities are certainly not exempt from scrutiny, as there were three hazing deaths in sororities during that same time period, but that number pales in comparison to fraternities.  The American college fraternity stands head and shoulders above any other organization on or off the college campus when it comes to hazing resulting in death.  No other group even comes close.

When confronted with these brutal facts, one must conclude that the American college fraternity brings together a perfect storm for hazing.  The rare combination of environmental factors present in the college fraternity converge to make it an environment that produces hazing of a terrific magnitude.  But what are those variables?  What about the college fraternity creates an environment so conducive to dangerous, deadly hazing?  Examining these questions and truly understanding the unique factors that contribute to the fraternity hazing culture is the first step in moving towards an effective fraternity hazing prevention strategy.  It is critically essential to understand what makes fraternity hazing so unique in order to properly address it.  This article offers an examination of two factors, unique to the fraternity culture, that contribute to hazing’s perfect storm.

The Interplay of Social Status and Conformity

Studies of bullying among adolescents (Bandura et al., 1999) and among prisoners (South & Wood, 2006) have found that bullying behaviors have a strong correlation with an individual’s desire for social status.  Another study of adolescent bullying found that conformity motives were the highest predictor of bullying among adolescent males (Kuntsche, Knibbe, Engels & Gmel, 2007).  In examining these studies together, it would seem logical that both conformity (the need to fit in) and social status (the need to obtain a place of status in the social hierarchy of a given environment) are both contributing factors in fraternity hazing.  Emerging research suggests that this is very much the case.

Research by McCreary and Schutts (2013) measured fraternal conformity, social status, and hazing tolerance and found strong, significant correlations among all three variables.  A diagram of these relationships would look like the following:

Any fraternity/sorority professional can readily recount a wide variety of anecdotes describing the ways that fraternity members jockey for social status (both individually and as groups), as well as the ways in which fraternity members conform to the “frat” stereotype (changing the way they dress, the music they listen to, the places they go, etc.). Research would suggest that the need to be accepted, taken in combination with the strong desire for social status, provide an environment in which hazing thrives.  Hazing is often carried out in a way that promotes conformity and solidarity among new members.  It is also done to achieve social status on campus (i.e. the prestige associated with a “hard pledge program”).  Cimino (2011) would argue that the social status of many groups on their campus would be an “automatic group benefit,” and that hazing in those groups is designed to prevent new members from exploiting those benefits.  It is likely that these two factors are stronger among college fraternity members than among any other group, although further research is needed to be certain.  The confluence of social status and conformity, unique to the college fraternity, is a significant risk factor in the perpetration of deadly hazing.  The desire to achieve social status is so strong that new members are willing to do almost anything to belong - a situation ripe for disaster, and one unique to college fraternities.

The Problem of Absolute Power

I regularly talk to groups about hazing and hazing prevention.  In the last year, I have taken to asking a question every time I speak.  The question is this:

“Can you name another social institution, besides the college fraternity, in which 19, 20 and 21 year-old young men have absolute power and authority over the lives of 17 and 18 year-old young men?”

I have asked this question dozens of times to hundreds of people.  I have yet to receive an answer.

With a sports team, you have a coach who ultimately makes the major decisions affecting the team.  With an ROTC unit, you have a chain of command.  With a marching band, there is a crew of adult band directors.  At the end of the day, with every other type of college group associated with hazing, you have responsible adults who are a key component of the power structure and decision-making within the group.  The same cannot be said for the college fraternity.  While there is a national structure and chapter advisors, these entities play no formal role in the day-to-day decision-making of the chapter.  Most importantly, they have no voice in two important decisions – who gets a bid, and who gets initiated.  Chapter members alone decide who gets a bid, they carry out the new member program, and they alone decide the fate of new members, often in anonymous and antiquated voting procedures. 

The absolute power that fraternity members have over their pledges, and the antiquated membership models that support these practices, is the number one risk factor associated with fraternity hazing.  It is the reason that there were 31 fraternity-related hazing deaths between the last two non-fraternity hazing deaths. Much like the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment, fraternity actives have absolute power over the lives of their new members. As the old adage goes, "power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely." If you buy that argument, then you have to buy the suggestion that the most important thing we can do to prevent hazing is to infuse responsible adults into positions of power within fraternal organizations. But how can we do that?  

Here’s an idea:

The best way to prevent dangerous hazing is to lower the level of hazing that new members would tolerate.  If you think of hazing along a continuum, with lower levels (i.e. errand running) and high levels (i.e. physical abuse) of hazing, then we can think about prevention as moving the line of acceptable behavior within an organization from higher levels to lower levels.  By curbing the absolute power that actives have over pledges, we may be able to do just that.

Imagine – a fraternity new member process where, at the end of that process, new members go before a chapter “Board of Directors” consisting evenly of undergraduate and alumni members.  The BOD questions the new member to ensure that he has learned all of the information needed to become initiated.  Any chapter member who feels this new member should not be initiated has an opportunity to address the BOD regarding his reasoning.  The BOD takes all of this information in, and determines whether or not the new member should be initiated.  How might such a system prevent hazing?  If a fraternity new member knows that, at the end of his new member period, the guy who is hazing him does not have the authority to anonymously remove him from the chapter, might he be willing to tolerate less from that member?  If a new member knew that responsible adults would be part of the decision regarding his initiation, might he be less willing to subject himself to degrading and dangerous activities?  I argue that he would. Such a model would not end hazing in a chapter, but I think it has the potential to drastically lower the level of severity of hazing within a chapter.

Some will be critical of this idea, asserting that the NPHC has already attempted to involve responsible adults in the pledging process, without success.  I would argue that the critical mistake made by the NPHC was in attempting to circumvent the undergraduate chapters altogether.  Instead of partnering, these groups have replaced undergraduate decision-making with alumni-decision making.  In the meantime, chapters have continued their pledging/hazing activities underground.  Accountability can only come through alumni working in conjunction with undergraduate members – a model that has not, to my knowledge, been fully implemented.


This post is not meant to beat up on fraternities. I am a proud fraternity member, and believe strongly in the power of the college fraternity to be a force for good.  But I can no longer look at the brutal facts of fraternity hazing and continue to insist that hazing is a student problem that can be fixed by better educating fraternity members about hazing.  We have to start by acknowledging that hazing is worse in fraternities than in any other organization.  Then, we must ask ourselves “Why?”  I have engaged in that thought experiment, and this blog represents my first attempt at answering that question. The unique combination of conformity, social status and absolute power are a recipe for disaster, and that confluence of factors is unique to the college fraternity. Once we acknowledge this and begin actively addressing it, we may begin to see progress in our fight to prevent hazing. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sorority Recruitment and Discrimination at Alabama

Part of me wishes I had spoken out sooner.  Lord knows I had the opportunity.  But please do not confuse my silence with acquiescence. Whatever you do, don't call me a bystander. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

I have watched with more than just a passing interest at the events unfolding at the University of Alabama in the days since the Crimson White published its story on the latest round of racial discrimination in Panhellenic Sorority Recruitment. To the casual observer, this story was nothing new under the sun. African American women have been trying, unsuccessfully, to join Panhellenic sororities for years. The result was always the same - systematic discrimination. Many brave young women tried to break through that barrier, but all met the same fate.  Almost every year, the Crimson White (the campus newspaper) would devote some ink to the story.  It would be all the buzz on campus for a few days, as students and faculty would wrestle with the nature of the problem.  But then the Crimson Tide football team would take the field for the first time and stories from sorority recruitment would fade into the background.

But the story this year was different.

Not everyone has picked up on the difference in this year's story.  It was subtle. In a world where we like to receive our news in 140 characters or less, details often get lost in the headlines.  But those who read beyond the headlines and who understand the issues on that campus noticed the difference in this year's story - for the first time, the undergraduate sorority members were calling out their alumnae members.  By name.

I had known for a few months about one of the young African American women participating in recruitment this year.  I knew she had impeccable credentials: 4.3 GPA, 28 ACT score, involved in high school, beautiful, grand-daughter of a member of the UA Board of Trustees, etc.  I knew that several undergraduate members of various sororities knew her and had her on the top of their list - an "RTP" as we called them at Alabama (Rush to Pledge).  Perhaps she would be the one to break through.

It was not to be.

The story that the Crimson White reported this year was not just a story of discrimination. It was a story of subversion. A story of threats and fear-mongering. A story of the abuse of power. This year, at least three of the chapters were ready to take the plunge.  But the alumnae advisors were having none of it.  In at least one chapter, the alumnae threatened the chapter with promises of withdrawn financial support.  In at least two others, the alumnae advisors overrode the chapter's voting process and removed the African American women from the pool, completely circumventing the recruitment process and subverting the will of the chapter.  And in the Crimson White article, the undergraduates told their stories of what had happened.  This represents, to my knowledge, the first time that undergraduate members have publicly called out their alumnae members on this issue.

Now, fast forward one week.  After a week of humiliating headlines, the University President called a private meeting with sorority advisors. The decision was made to increase campus total to 5 more than the largest chapter on campus, allowing any chapter to add additional new members through the continuous open bidding (COB) process. I have been told by those present at the meeting that the President did not beat around the bush regarding the reason for increasing total - the sororities should take the opportunity to do the right thing and pledge the women they want to pledge.

Some have called this action a band-aid - a temporary fix aimed only at stopping the negative publicity. To some extent, this may be true, but those who make that argument demonstrate very little understanding of the underlying fear that is at the heart of this issue.  If a sorority uses this opportunity to pledge an African American member, then everything will change forever.

At the heart of this issue is fear: fear of being the first, fear of how other Greek organizations on campus will respond, fear of the alumnae, fear of being different, fear of the unknown. The fear extends from the undergraduate chapters to the alumnae to the national organizations.  There is also fear within the University administration. The University has been afraid of taking a stand on this issue for years - afraid of offending alumni donors who might withdraw their support of the University, afraid of letting their Director of Greek Affairs get too involved in the issue. Fear is a very powerful motivator. As it turns out, the only thing more powerful than fear is public humiliation.

It looks like at least one sorority will extend a bid to at least one African American woman this week.  They will do so proudly, but with trepidation - with fear of the unknown. But here is the important part - when they take this historic step forward, the sky will not fall. The world will keep turning. Their alumnae will still support them. The fraternities on campus will still swap with them.  Other than having one dark face among hundreds of white ones in chapter photos, nothing will change. And everyone else will notice this.  The alumnae members who still think it is 1975 will see that times have changed. Recalcitrant undergraduates, those who wanted to do the right thing but were afraid of how others on campus would respond, will see that the group with a black member did not become a social pariah.  The fear will dissipate.  The issue of skin color will become a non-issue.  I will not go so far as to say that the floodgates will open, but I do think that the issue of race in sorority recruitment will become a thing of the past. Simply, chapters who want to pledge a woman of color will be able to do so with no fear.  And that will be a huge step forward for the University of Alabama.

When this happens, I will not give any credit to the University of Alabama administration or to the national organization who happens to be the first to do it.  The University has dodged responsibility on this issue for years.  The national organizations have been made aware of problematic advisors on numerous occasions and have done nothing about it. The credit will go solely to the young women who have had the courage to speak out, to challenge the status quo, and to go public with their stories - women like Anna Foley, Hallie Paul, Alex Clark, Melanie Gotz, Kirkland Back, Yardena Wolf, and so many others. It is not easy to challenge the status quo, especially on a campus like the University of Alabama with a "machine" that has maintained its power on campus through coercion, violence and intimidation.  These women deserve all of the credit for making this change possible.  Their story is a story of courage.

I could tell a lot of stories in this post - stories that would embarrass the University and several of the national organizations on campus.  But what's the point?  I have no desire to embarrass anyone.  I want to see this issue become a thing of the past.  I want to see the fear and discrimination end.  I want to see the students at the University of Alabama, the great majority of whom have been unfairly characterized as racist, take ownership of their chapters and do the right thing.  As long as that happens, and I have every reason to believe that it will, then my stories would serve no purpose other than to ruin professional relationships and create even more humiliation.  I have no desire to see either of those things happen.  I love the University of Alabama.  It is an amazing place.  I am a proud former employee and a proud alumnus.  I want to see my Alma Mater do the right thing, and I have never been more hopeful that it will.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Open Response Larry Wiese

Larry – first, I want to thank you for the thoughtful response to my recent blog post.  The purpose of the post was to generate discussion – I am glad you brought your thoughts into the open to be viewed and considered by everyone.

The last thing I want to do is get into a back and forth debate via the internet. That is not something I find constructive or enjoyable.  I hope that at some point in the near future we can discuss our differences in person or over the phone. However, since you chose to challenge my integrity in a public forum, I have no choice but to respond publicly in order to set the record straight.

To begin, I would like to respond to each of the "errors" you point out in the order in which they are presented in your response.

1 – Joe Gilman’s Role with FGRC/FSPAC and HPO - I apologize that I mistakenly attributed Mr. Gilman with a position of formal leadership within the FGRC/FSPAC. I was under the impression that he was a former FGRC board member. I was mistaken, and I apologize for the error. He is, however, a donor listed on the organization’s website. As you also noted, Joe is a former regent of Sigma Nu fraternity, an organization that is a top contributor listed on the FSPAC website. Mr. Gilman is also prominently featured on the banner picture on the top of the FGRC homepage, indicating that he has, at the very least, been personally and intimately involved with the group’s lobbying efforts. Suffice it to say, Joe has a vested interest in the operations and activities of the FSPAC and the FGRC. 

With regards to the response of HazingPrevention.Org to my article, here is a copy of the email sent by Charles Hall, HPO Executive Director, upon receipt of the article:


After some discussion with Joe Gilman, our Chairman of the Board, we feel HPO needs to pass on this article for the newsletter. At this time we do not have a position on federal anti-hazing legislation, and even if we did, we have to be careful about going over the line on the ‘legislative lobbying’ infringement which could impact our non-profit status in the future. I trust you understand this delicate position for HPO when it comes to political legislation implications.

Thank you for all the support you have provided HPO over the years. We appreciate your efforts to continue the HPO mission to educate organization and individuals with the hazing prevention model. We look forward to continuing to have you as a HPO supporter.



I found it very odd that HPO, a group that is committed to hazing prevention, was unwilling to publish an article aimed at starting a dialogue regarding how prevention might be promoted at the federal level, regardless of whether organizational leadership agreed with all of the suggestions. They did not come back to me with feedback or suggestions for improvement – they dismissed the article out of hand.  I personally served as the editor of the HPO newsletter for two years.  During that time, I am not aware of a single instance where articles were vetted through the board chairman.  Also during that time, I published an article comparing the hazing prevention movement to the anti-bullying movement. In that article, I specifically pointed out that the anti-bullying movement has been more effective at lobbying for change at the federal level, which was part of the reason for their success.  No one in HPO leadership had any issue or expressed any concern with that article at the time.  Why the sudden change in position?  Could it be that many of the same individuals and groups that support the efforts of FGRC and the FSPAC are also the largest contributors to HPO? And could it be that HPO leadership did not want to promote an article that was in open disagreement with the stated position of FGRC/FSPAC? I suspect that there may be some connection between the two, and I think most reasonable people who look at the facts would agree with me.  

This is precisely the reason I no longer volunteer for HPO.  It is an organization with tremendous potential for good, but it is too beholden to the groups that fund it. The organization is unwilling to take any position that runs counter to the beliefs of its major donors, which severely limits its ability to prevent hazing within fraternal organizations.

Also, let me be clear about one thing - I am not in any way implying that Joe Gilman has done anything unethical.  Joe is a good man, someone I consider a friend, and has done many wonderful things for both HPO and the fraternal movement.  I am only suggesting that his involvement with FGRC/FSPAC was a significant factor in the decision not to publish the article in the HPO newsletter.  

2 – Use of the Term “FratPAC” - As has been noted by others, the term "FratPAC" was not coined by the Bloomberg author, nor was it coined by me. It was the original web domain and twitter handle created by the leadership of the Fraternity/Sorority Political Action Committee. The fact that those same individuals are now running from that moniker makes no difference to me. Also, you will notice that I only used the term "FratPAC" in setting up the article and explaining the blog. This was done intentionally, to draw attention to the article, as this "scandal" is now associated with that term. The actual article itself uses the "correct" terminology.

3 – Overstatement of Federal Financial Aid Restrictions - I do not see that I overstated anything. There are a variety of drug and sexual violence-related crimes for which one can be denied federal financial aid. I did not state a number. I do not know the number of students who have been affected by this legislation, or if those data are even available. The point to be made is that withholding federal financial aid after a criminal conviction is not without precedent.   There are a “variety of ways” in which this is done.  Please help me understand how this is an overstatement.  Perhaps I overgeneralized, but I did not overstate.

4 – Public statements regarding FGRC/FSPAC’s hazing lobbying efforts - You may be surprised to learn the extent to which I did research this particular issue. Let’s look at the facts. One of the two groups who support FGRC, the NIC, has a government relations page on its website. That page mentions only CHIA – there is absolutely no mention of hazing or any other legislative priorities, even though NIC leadership has been intimately involved in those efforts. There is no mention of hazing legislation/lobbying on the FGRC website. In fact, the front page lists five legislative priorities – hazing is not one of them. While the FSPAC newsletters you cite make some mention of the hazing activities, one must do a great deal of digging, clicking and reading in order to find them. Hence, I used the phrase "public documents and websites make little mention..."  The only place I can find these references are in the FSPAC newsletters. Please note that I did not say "no mention." That would have been misleading, but that is not what I said.  Regardless, the fact remains that someone would have to be looking very hard in order to find any public statements related to NIC/NPC/FGRC/FSPAC and their lobbying efforts related to proposed hazing legislation. The fact that so many people involved in the “fraternity movement” were surprised by the revelation that FGRC/FSPAC had lobbied against Rep. Wilson’s proposals should be evidence enough that there was very little/poor communication regarding these lobbying efforts. Again, I think reasonable people who look at the facts would agree with my assertion that the publicly available information would qualify as "little mention." 

Now, on to the substantive issues.

In addition to attempting to correct me, you also laid out a number of arguments to support your position that my proposals were without merit.  First, you cited the Insidehighered.com article related to the Corprew study (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/08/hypermasculinity-sexual-aggression-link-non-fraternity-members-points-need-broader) I encourage you to re-read the article that you reference, as well as the study upon which that article is based. The article found that the link between individual levels of hyper-masculinity and sexual aggression was less pronounced among fraternity members than non-members. This study does not say that fraternity members are less sexually aggressive or less hypermasculine, as you incorrectly state (In fact, I can point you do dozens of studies which find that they are more sexually aggressive).  The study also does not control for the fact that the social norms of certain peer groups (i.e. fraternities, sports teams) may have more hypermasculine cultures that do not manifest themselves in individual measures of hypermasculinty.  In other words, it is the hypermasculine culture of the group that impacts sexual aggression, not an individual’s level of hypermasculinity. Much like the NIC when UniLOA data first became available, I am not surprised to see that you are latching on to one shred of positive data and twisting (or misunderstanding) it to fit your own narrow objectives while ignoring literally hundreds of other studies to the contrary.

You also question the effectiveness of the “Dear Colleague Letter” in determining how campuses respond to sexual assault. I am happy to furnish you with a bevy of articles related to the manner in which institutions of higher learning have been grossly negligent in their adjudication of sexual assault.  This includes ignoring complaints of sexual misconduct, pressuring rape victims to remain silent, and retaliating against rape victims who speak out publicly.  I can also point you to articles explaining how the new changes mandated by the federal government are drastically changing the way that campuses handle these issues.  Whether or not these changes represent an improvement is a matter for debate – I happen to think that they are an improvement.  Many people happen to agree with me.

Along those lines, you specifically take issue with the assertion that a misconduct hearing could take place without the direct participation of a victim.  You and I have both been a part of hazing investigations.  You know that significant evidence must be provided in order to find a group responsible for hazing in a student conduct hearing.  I have taken part in several investigations in which hazing victims would openly discuss their experience with me privately, but could never muster the courage to testify in an open hearing against their organization.  The fear of retribution is too great.  An investigative model that allowed for an independent, unbiased investigator to present information uncovered during an investigation to the hearing panel would allow the information to be presented without forcing the victim to publicly confront those who abused him and have the power to make his life miserable.  I see no problems with such a model - it would balance the needs of basic process for the accused student while providing needed protections to a victim.  The courts have been clear on the issue of due process – the rights guaranteed to accused students are not as broad as you would have others believe.  Accused students have a right to be notified of the charges against them, they have the right to refute those charges in an administrative proceeding, and in limited instances they have the right to counsel.  I am not aware of any binding federal opinion in which a court has suggested that an accused student has the right to confront or cross-examine the victim of their alleged misconduct.  If such an opinion exists, I hope that you will provide it to me.

If the FGRC/FSPAC wants to go on record indicating that they are more concerned with the due process rights of accused rapists/hazers than they are with ensuring that college campuses have a fair and equitable process in place to address allegations of sexual violence/hazing, then you are certainly within your rights to do so.  I do not share that position, and suspect that many of my colleagues would agree with me.

Finally, you indicate the problems associated with the proposal of adding hazing into the Clery Act. You first point to the problem of finding a universally agreed-upon definition of hazing.  While I will not debate with you the ineptness of our federal government, I will point out that they were able to win two world wars and put a man on the moon.  I am fairly certain that they could establish a definition for hazing. Additionally, adding hazing to the Clery Report would not be an unfunded mandate, as you suggest. The report is already mandated. Compiling data for the Clery Report is one of my responsibilities at the University of West Florida.  Adding hazing violations to the report would take, in a conservative estimate, roughly two minutes of my time. You also question whether we have proof that mandated hazing reporting already in place at the state level has reduced hazing. Do we have proof that this would work? Not that I am aware.  But can you point me to the studies that have shown it has not been effective?  If indisputable proof of effectiveness is now the standard we are trying to meet before experimenting with new prevention initiatives, then I must have missed that memo. It certainly is not the philosophy articulated at the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention, where participants are asked to ground their approaches in best practice and to assess results.  In explaining the social-ecological model, the curriculum specifically discusses how changes to law at both the state AND federal level were responsible for reducing highway traffic fatalities.  Why would federal intervention work with highway fatalities but not hazing? 

Based on your post, there are a few questions I have for you:

1. You, and several others involved in the leadership of FGRC/FSPAC, have indicated that the group has “led the fight to prevent hazing” and will “continue our efforts to make hazing a crime in all 50 states,” indicating that this work has already begun.  Can you please provide us with evidence that FGRC/FSPAC has engaged in lobbying in any of the 6 states (and the District of Columbia) that do not have hazing laws?  Please provide records of legislative visits, as well as donations made to any state legislators in those six states, or evidence of any other work done by FGRC/FSPAC related to hazing at the state level.           
2. You frequently but vaguely cite your concerns with the April 4, 2011 OCR “Dear Colleague” letter. Will you please go on the record to state exactly what about this letter is concerning to you and the FGRC/FSPAC/NIC/NPC leadership, and what you would propose as an alternative framework for the manner in which campuses respond to allegations of sexual assault?

Larry, I am sorry you feel that my blog post was sensationalized. That was certainly not my intention. My intention was to begin a dialogue related to what efforts on the federal level might be beneficial in preventing and adjudicating hazing. I am also sorry that you felt the need to personally attack and scold me.  I understand that by personally attacking me and my motivation in writing this article, you are attempting to shift the argument away from substantive issues and to cast my credibility into doubt.  Your outright refusal to consider any federal intervention as an effective tool in the fight to prevent hazing represents the "head in the sand" approach that is both dangerous and reflective of the narrow interests of a predetermined agenda.

There are no silver bullets in our fight to prevent hazing – we both know that.  But everything we know about prevention tells us that action must occur at multiple levels in order to bring about change. Your assertion that “education , not legislation, is the only method proven effective” is stunningly inaccurate.   Changing both environments and individuals is required in order to change behavior – this is a basic and widely-accepted tenant of prevention.  I would encourage you, and others who share your views, to re-read the article and consider openly and candidly any efforts at the federal level that might assist in the fight to prevent hazing. That is the only agenda I have.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

FratPAC and Hazing at the Federal Level

I'm the last person who ever thought I would start my own blog.  Well, necessity is the mother of invention, I suppose.  When the news broke last week about the FratPAC's lobbying efforts, I was a little surprised to see the oft-repeated line from FRGC brass indicating their position that hazing was an issue best left to the states.  I thought a lot about the pros and cons of state vs. federal action, and came up with a few ideas of what effective federal legislation might look like.

I was proud of my effort, and immediately shipped it off to HazingPrevention.Org for consideration in their upcoming newsletter.  To my surprise, I was informed that HPO does not have a position on federal hazing legislation, and that they were going to pass on my article.  Upon further investigation, I found the news not-so-surprising.  The HPO Board Chairman, Joe Gilman (who is a great guy, and someone I consider a friend), is a donor and past board member of the FratPAC.  So I understand why HPO leadership decided to pass on my article.

Next, I shopped it to AFA Essentials.  They loved the article, and asked to hang on to if for a few months until it better fit with the theme of their monthly newsletter.  Me, being the impatient guy that I am, didn't want to wait.

So here we are.  My first blog.  This may be the only time I do this.  I'm counting on the power of social media to help me spread this message.  We'll see how this little experiment works.  Enjoy!


Addressing Hazing at the Federal Level

Late last week, news broke indicating that the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FSPAC) was actively engaged in lobbying against federal anti-hazing legislation proposed by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).  Her proposed legislation (which has yet to be submitted as a bill before Congress) would, among other things, require mandated reporting of hazing allegations and would eliminate Federal Financial Aid benefits to students found responsible for hazing. 

According to North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) president Pete Smithhisler (http://abcnews.go.com/Business/fraternity-group-lobbies-hazing-reform/story?id=19766121), the Fraternal Government Relations Committee (FGRC) has, in fact, met with Rep. Wilson regarding concerns about her proposed legislation, and public records indicate that the FSPAC donated $1,000 to her campaign fund.  The FGRC training packet for the April 2013 congressional visits contains a brief section regarding hazing legislation, including this excerpt:

While we lead the fight against hazing, we do not think it should be a federal issue. For many legal and policy reasons, we oppose proposed legislation that denies federal financial aid to students subject to a university sanction for hazing. We believe this legislation would result in more problems than it solves in regards to hazing.

While their critiques of the legislation are legitimate, their involvement in lobbying against proposed hazing legislation could be problematic, especially for the NIC and the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the two groups who founded and financially support the FGRC.  Public commentary from FRGC leadership has always suggested that their lobbying efforts included three main legislative priorities: to protect fraternity/sorority exemptions articulated under Title IX, to protect tax deductions for fraternity/sorority charitable contributions, and to promote the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act (CHIA), which would allow for tax-deductible gifts towards fraternity/sorority housing.  Public documents and websites related to the FGRC and the NIC/NPC government relations efforts make little mention of any lobbying on behalf of or in opposition to federal hazing legislation.  In a phone conversation, Pete Smithhisler indicated that the decision was made to only communicate the hazing lobbying effort "to our internal constituents” (Pete Smithhisler, Personal Communication, July 25, 2013).  Based on this admission, it appears that many individuals may have donated to the FSPAC under the auspices of supporting CHIA, with no knowledge that the funds would be used to lobby for or against federal anti-hazing legislation.

Social media has been abuzz with conversation regarding this revelation.  Those defending the NIC/FGRC/FSPAC are quick to point out the flaws in Rep. Wilson’s proposed legislation (http://wilson.house.gov/press-releases/congresswoman-wilson-announces-framework-for-anti-hazing-legislation/).  This criticism is not without merit.  Her proposal of denying federal financial aid benefits to any student found responsible for hazing, or witnessing hazing but not reporting it, would have far-reaching unintended consequences and would disproportionately affect low-income students.

With that said, some of the arguments against her proposed legislation appear misguided.  Several have argued that there is no need for a federal anti-hazing bill – that the issue is best left to the states.  The argument that only the states should be involved in hazing does not reflect an understanding of existing prevention framework.  Those who study the science of prevention are well aware of Bronfebrenner’s “Social Ecological Model” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_ecological_model).  The Social Ecological Model describes various levels of intervention that can affect behavior change.  The outermost layer, the “macro-system,” is often thought of in regards to public policy.  The laws governing any particular behavior are an important part of promoting change with regards to that behavior.  This is a basic tenant of the framework taught at the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention, and has been previously discussed when comparing the anti-bullying movement to the hazing prevention movement (http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Learning-from-the-Anti-Bullying-Movement.html?soid=1101826026302&aid=OBB2_TrwoF0). 

Furthermore, the federal government has demonstrated its ability to bring about behavioral change on college campuses.  For an example of this, one should look no further than the April 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/dear_colleague_sexual_violence.pdf).  This letter, and the laws that now undergird it (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa_factsheet.pdf), have drastically improved the way that college campuses prevent and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct.  Sadly, it appears that the FGRC, along with the leadership of the NIC and NPC, have also lobbied against those reforms (http://www.fspac.org/images/uploads/FratPAC_S12_Newsletter.pdf).

Assuming that the FGRC is genuine in its assertion that it would support “well-crafted” federal anti-hazing legislation, it is worth proposing what effective federal legislation might look like.  The following list includes a number of possible ways that hazing prevention could be enacted at the federal level:

Include Hazing in Clery Report Statistics

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act was passed in 1990 in response to the 1986 rape and murder of Jeanne Clery at Lehigh University.  The Clery Act requires, among other things, colleges to publish an annual security report.  This report contains statistics about campus crime, including crimes of violence and crimes involving violations of drug and alcohol laws.  The Clery Act was amended in 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Act to include a number of new crimes in the security report, including domestic violence and stalking.

Many campuses attempt to keep hazing allegations and investigations quiet in an effort to reduce negative publicity and to curry favor with prominent alumni.  As a result, prospective students and their parents are often ill-informed regarding the prevalence of hazing on the campuses they are considering attending.  By including hazing allegations on the Clery Report, prospective students will be able to  make better-informed decisions, and campuses will be more accountable for their respective hazing cultures.  Furthermore, as organizational conduct records are not protected by FERPA, campuses could be required to publish the names of any organizations found responsible for hazing in their Clery Report.  This would add an additional layer of accountability to both the institutions and the organizations involved in hazing.

Promulgate Investigative/Adjudicative Model Similar to the One Outlined by the OCR for Title IX Cases

The April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter issued by the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education put colleges on notice that the manner in which they were handling, or mishandling, sexual misconduct allegations was no longer acceptable.  The letter laid out a number of guidelines, many of which were later codified under the Violence Against Women Act in 2013.  While the NIC, at least, appears to have concerns regarding the mandated “preponderance of the evidence” threshold for burden of proof in Title IX cases, other aspects of the DCL provide a valuable framework for addressing and adjudicating hazing on college campuses.

The DCL guidelines included very specific language related to the “fair and equitable” investigation and adjudication of sexual assault allegations.  It required campuses to appoint a Title IX coordinator and to have trained, unbiased investigators.  The letter provided protections to victims, allowing conduct processes to proceed without forcing the victim to face her attacker.  Each of these requirements, and more, would drastically improve the way college campuses respond to hazing allegations if they were applied in that fashion. 

It is well-documented that many college campuses have attempted to minimize hazing allegations, particularly those that do not result in physical injury or harm.  The culture that is created by this “head in the sand approach” is one that allows for greater rates of perpetration.  Federal legislation could require campuses to report hazing allegations to a designated “Hazing Prevention Coordinator,” require timely investigations by a trained, unbiased investigator, allow for the results of investigations to be presented at a hearing without the participation of victims.  By moving towards this type of model, campuses would be forced to address all hazing allegations, regardless of severity, and provide a timely, fair and equitable outcome.  This would surely be an improvement on a majority of campuses.

Loss of Federal Financial Aid Benefits for Anyone Criminally Convicted of Hazing

Representative Wilson’s original proposal would have denied federal aid benefits to anyone found responsible in a campus conduct hearing for any type of hazing, or for anyone who witnessed hazing, including as a victim, and did not report it to the proper authorities.  This proposal is problematic for a number of reasons, all of which have been pointed out by the FGRC.

However, the idea of denying federal aid benefits should not be dismissed outright.  Under current law, students can be denied federal aid for a variety of drug and forcible sex offenses (http://studentaid.ed.gov/eligibility/criminal-convictions).  However, these restrictions only apply if and when a student (or prospective student) has been convicted in a criminal proceeding.  Currently, 44 of 50 states have hazing laws.  In order to truly be effective, it would be necessary to have some uniformity to these laws and to bring the other six states (Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming) into the fold.  If that happened, a restriction of federal financial aid to anyone criminally convicted of hazing would send a clear message to would-be hazers, particularly in those states with strong anti-hazing laws.


The function and activities of the so-called “FratPAC” will likely continue to stir debate.  While their aims and purposes appear to be noble, it cannot be denied that they, like many other lobbying groups, represent powerful special interests.  It also cannot be argued that their efforts, and the resulting media coverage, represent a black eye for the “fraternity movement.”  Openly lobbying against federal hazing legislation was a bad idea.  Period. Regardless, those of us interested in hazing prevention should be interested in pursuing any and all opportunities that show promise in preventing hazing.  The suggestions in this article are likely only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what might be effective at the federal level.  But to be outright dismissive of any federal involvement in hazing prevention is shortsighted.  Let us continue to pursue opportunities to reduce the prevalence and severity of hazing at all levels and in all settings.