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.