Thursday, May 15, 2014

Five Reasons You Should Be Using Title IX as a Model for Hazing Investigation and Adjudication

Hazing has been all the buzz in recent months. From the slew of coverage in Bloomberg News to the recent expose’ in The Atlantic, hazing, particularly within college fraternities, has felt the heat of a very bright media spotlight.  Colleges and universities are under increased pressure to improve the manner in which they prevent and respond to incidents of hazing.

As it turns out, most campuses have a protocol in place that provides a good model for investigating and adjudicating hazing allegations.  This post offers five reasons you should be using your campus Title IX protocols as a model for hazing adjudication. If your campus has not adopted an investigator model for adjudicating Title IX cases, or if you are unfamiliar with the process, you can read more about the ATIXA model here.

1. The investigations can be complex, and require a trained, knowledgeable investigator. Like sexual misconduct, hazing cases can be incredibly complex with multiple witnesses, varying versions of events, fuzzy memories, and the like. These investigations often take a great deal of time – interviewing and entire new member class is not an uncommon practice.  The principles of a good investigation do not change based on the type of case. It makes a great deal of sense to use your trained investigators – those you have already trained for Title IX cases – to also conduct hazing investigations.

2. Your Fraternity/Sorority Advisor should not be investigating hazing cases. I worked as a fraternity/sorority (F/S) advisor for nearly seven years on two different campuses. On one campus, I played the lead role in investigating hazing cases. On the other, I played no role. Want to guess on which campus I had the best relationship with students?  Your F/S advisor needs to be seen as an advocate for the community. Having them take the lead on hazing investigations puts them in an incredibly awkward position of being the “heavy” within the community for which they are supposed to advocate. It harms their ability to foster positive and meaningful relationships with students, and damages student trust. Your F/S advisor should certainly play a supporting role in these investigations, providing guidance, assistance and context, but they should not be seen as the driving force behind the investigation.

3. The victimology of hazing and sexual assault are strikingly similar.  Victims of hazing share striking similarities with sexual assault survivors.  Both know and are often close to their perpetrator(s).  Both feel immense pressure to stay quiet about what happened to them. Both suffer from victim-blaming.  Both suffer from the fear of re-victimization in the form of retaliation which may prevent them from participating in a campus conduct process.  For all of these reasons and more, an investigator model for hazing adjudication makes a great deal of sense. In such a model, a victim could freely participate in an investigation without having to fear the pressure or retaliation that might come from their participation in an open disciplinary proceeding.

4. Time is of the essence. In hazing cases, it is important to investigate as soon as possible. Unnecessary delays can allow for interference into an investigation (i.e. everyone “getting their story straight”).  Having a team of trained investigators ready to immediately begin an investigation as soon as allegations are received is critical. If only the conduct officer or F/S advisor are able to investigate, it may take days or even weeks to begin and complete an investigation. Using a team of trained investigators allows for a speedy and thorough investigation that will be more likely to yield useful information.

5. Thorough investigations and consistent adjudication are a powerful prevention tool. One of the most significant predictors of the severity of hazing within a fraternity/sorority community is the perception students have regarding the extent to which there may be consequences for their actions. Does your institution clearly and frequently communicate expectations to students? Are all hazing allegations thoroughly investigated and adjudicated, regardless of the severity of the report?  Are groups sanctioned appropriately? All of these things create a culture on campus that significantly predict attitudes about hazing. By moving to a trained investigator model, you will be able to more fully and thoroughly address allegations of hazing, no matter how severe. This will go to great lengths in deterring behavior. If students know and see clearly that there will be consequences for their behavior, they will be less likely to minimize or distort those consequences of that behavior (i.e. “we won’t get caught, and if we do, we won’t get in trouble”). This will not make hazing disappear from your campus, but it will drastically reduce the severity of the hazing on campus.

I think the independent investigator model is a promising alternative to current approaches. In my consulting work, I have been able to spend time with campuses putting together and training these investigative teams – I have found that to be some of the most rewarding work I have done.  At UWF, we are in the process of adjusting our hazing policy and our Student Code of Conduct to allow for this type of process. The model will provide for a more timely response, more thorough investigations, and will allow campuses to investigate ALL hazing cases, not just those that they see as serious or life-threatening. This will go a long way in our continued efforts to prevent hazing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Is Self-Governance Dead?

The concept of self-governance is at the heart of the American college fraternity. Self-governance has long been considered the key to the development that takes place within these organizations; take a group of young men, put them in a cooperative social setting, allow them to wrestle with the concepts of accountability and responsibility, then sit back and watch them grow up. Magic.

For over 150 years, this model has worked pretty well.  Sure, the college fraternity has taken its lumps over the years, and fraternity members have made their fair share of screw-ups, but on the whole, most fraternal experiences could be described as developmental, and self-governance has played a key role in that development.  Individuals from my generation, and previous generations, often attribute their fraternity experience as a key to their growth and development into responsible young men.

In principal, I think self-governance among college students is a good thing, and an erstwhile goal for higher education administrators. Research from the National Study of Student Engagement suggests that student agency, a fancy term for self-governance, is linked to a number of positive outcomes on campus. Allowing students to take ownership over their choices, and to reap the rewards and pay the consequences of those choices, is a powerful developmental tool. This idea has found its way into my teaching – In my student development theory class, my students have become familiar with “McCreary’s Laws.” Law Number Two is “Never do for students what they can and should do for themselves.”  You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger advocate of student agency and self-governance than myself.

Despite my enthusiasm for self-governance, a number of emerging trends point to an inescapable truth: college students today are developmentally much less prepared to effectively self-govern than previous generations.

A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Michigan point out that empathy among college students is at an all-time low. Empathy, or the ability to relate to another person by putting yourself in their shoes, is a uniquely human trait and, as suggested by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, is at the core of human morality. Several explanations have been made for the decline in empathy – my friend Stephen Black would suggest that it stems from our decreased levels interaction with those who are different from us – the civic disconnect of our society. Some argue that levels of empathy are down because children have less unstructured time and less opportunity to resolve conflicts among themselves as adolescents. Regardless of the reason, this lack of empathy has a profound impact on one’s ability to govern oneself and one’s peers.  Simply, how can a student who is unable to put himself in someone else's shoes be expected to responsibly make decisions impacting his peers? How can a student lacking empathy be expected to hold peers accountable in any meaningful way?

The decrease in empathy has been coupled with steady increases in narcissism. It does not take a long time to surmise what this combination means – students are much more concerned about their own lives and struggles than they are with the lives of their peers. Again, the implications for self-governance are obvious.

Perhaps most troubling, the research of the co-chair of my dissertation committee, Dr. Steve Thoma, is pointing to the clear trend of students coming to college exhibiting lower and lower levels of moral development. In his research with Micky Bebeau he has found that not only are post-conventional moral development scores on the decline, but personal self-interest (PI) scores are on the rise. In a nutshell, this means that college students today are much less likely to make decisions about right and wrong based on universal ethical principles (i.e. do unto others…) and much more likely to make those decisions based on coarse self-interest (i.e. I don’t care if my fraternity brother is struggling with substance abuse problems and is abusing his girlfriend, as long as it doesn't affect me) or based on maintaining group norms (i.e. I have a problem with the rape culture in our chapter, but nobody else seems to have a problem with it…). We also know that the moral development of college fraternity members stagnates during college, while non-affiliated students experience tremendous growth during the college years.  Expecting students with these attributes to self-govern in the same way that previous generations have self-governed may be a tall order. These phenomena may also be responsible for the increase in behavioral problems (hazing, substance abuse, sexual misconduct, etc.) we see across the board in the college fraternity today. Today's college student is much less prepared to confront others, resolve conflict, or foster an ethic of social responsibility when compared college students of previous generations.

All of this begs the questions: Are our models of fraternal self-governance adequately equipped to provide for the development of today’s college student?  Is the free reign and autonomy given to undergraduate fraternity leaders adequate in properly developing them as future leaders of society?  Or are we using an outdated model that needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of today’s college student?

A Model of Shared Governance

Instead of a model in which undergraduates are expected to make all decisions in a vacuum, completely insulated from the input of responsible adults, I would offer that we should begin investigating models of shared governance for undergraduate chapters.

At the national level, Alpha Tau Omega has flirted with a version of shared governance with their Board of Trustees chapter advisory model. I have worked with some very high-performing ATO chapters in my career, and can directly tie the success of some of those chapters to highly involved BOT’s who ACTIVELY INSERTED THEMSELVES into the decision-making apparatus of the chapter. They assisted in the new member education process. They helped oversee the budget. They were involved in recruitment. In a word, they did more than show up at a chapter meeting once a month – they were actively involved in making decisions and running the chapter.  And these chapters were incredibly high performing – large chapters with incredible grades, sound risk management programs with members involved in all corners of campus life. These were model chapters; award-winning chapters.

Notice I did not say these BOT’s ran the chapter. The president still ran meetings. The new member educator still delivered the new member education. But none of these individuals operated in a vacuum. They were actively supported by, and were in frequent consultation with, a responsible adult.

I think this issue is much bigger than just active advisory teams. How can we infuse alumni into chapter operations in a way that allows them to play an active role in the governance of the chapter? In a previous blog post, I have argued for a model in which alumni play a role in decisions about membership.  We should also involve them in the internal standards/accountability process, the recruitment process, and in all facets of chapter operations. These processes should not be run by alumni, but alumni should not be limited to the role of passive bystander. They should be actively involved in shared decision-making. 

Transitioning to such a model could have multiple benefits. It would improve chapter operations. It would reduce risk management issues. It would provide more opportunities to develop meaningful mentoring relationships. It would provide alumni with meaningful volunteer opportunities and lifelong engagement.  Perhaps most importantly, it would allow for meaningful student development by giving students an opportunity to work hand in hand with adults on important issues. There is a reason that most collegiate sororities operate at a much higher level than their fraternal counterparts – the alumnae advisors play a much more active role in the day to day operations of the chapter.

One thing is certain – our current model is unsustainable. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has decided to address its issues through the elimination of pledging. While this model may have merit, would a move to shared governance not have been less painless and would it not be capable of similar results? Only time will tell, but we need more organizations willing to challenge the status quo and experiment with new ways of doing business. Moving towards models of shared governance may provide some answers to the questions vexing the fraternal community.