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 article related to the Corprew study ( 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 (, 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 (  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” (  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 ( 

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 (  This letter, and the laws that now undergird it (, 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 (

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 (  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.