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.


  1. I agree with not having the campus FSA investigate. And conduct officers have a busy caseload. But does Title IX itself - or the position descriptions of campus coordinators - allow for them to do hazing investigations, or must it be focused on sexual assault investigations?

  2. Great question, Todd - depending on the school, the investigators may or may not be coordinators/deputy coordinators. Many schools (and the model I am proposing here) have a model in which there is a team of trained investigators who fall under the purview of the Title IX Coordinator. I am suggesting that, completely separate from their role with Title IX, that those trained, independent and unbiased investigators also investigate hazing allegations and present their findings at disciplinary proceedings. We are currently in the process of making those changes here - happy to send you what we've done in terms of revising our hazing policy as well as our student code of conduct.


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