Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Pérez insists the schools anti-hazing protocols are not the beginning of the end for societies. “We’re not out to eliminate societies,” said Pérez, “Really the goal is to make organizations on campus stronger and to foster an environment of care on campus.”
The Committee on Student Organizations and Athletics held open forums Sep. 18-20 with students to get feed back on their anti-hazing initiatives and to discuss the recent survey sent out in a Student-L email to evaluate the hazing culture at Whittier College. Although the Committee encompasses all organizations on campus, the primary focus of the meetings was societies and society pledging, which is called New Member Education.
“The goal of the committee is to develop recommendations to Whittier’s Senior Staff on steps the College can take to reduce the likelihood of hazing on our campus,” Pérez wrote in a Student-L on Sep. 12. The recommendations, based on the survey results and a focus group that will be done on campus in early October, will be presented at the end of October.
Senior Staff will then decide what policies to adopt. Student organizations are not aware of what recommendations are being considered, as the Committee is not releasing minutes from their meetings aside from Student-L summaries.
Tensions were high in the meeting, as societies expressed concerns about basing recommendations off the survey. “The survey felt very accusatory,” said third-year and Metaphonian President Jazmyn Alvarado, “There’s a lot of negative language and perception of societies from people who are not in them. What about asking new members how they felt after New Member Education to see if they thought the process was worth it?”
The survey was open to all students but had different sets of questions for those involved in on-campus activities. Students were asked to check the boxes of activities they participate in: societies, clubs, sports, etc. Then, they were asked to rank which activity they were involved in the most. From there, students were asked a series of questions about hazing culture on campus. StopHazing, a third-party organization, originally created the survey for educational institutions to evaluate Greek life. Whittier College modified the language to exclude Greek terminology, but did not change the integrity of any question.
Hazing has received much national attention lately, following an incident at Penn State University where nineteen-year-old Timothy Piazza died while pledging into a fraternity. The student was intoxicated and fell down a flight of stairs. Footage in court showed members of the fraternity arguing over what to do with him.
The case shocked the nation and spurred amore serious reaction in higher education. Legislation will likely follow tightening up hazing laws, including mandatory reports from colleges releasing their hazing statistics. “The proposed legislation is similar to the CLERY act that mandates us to release crime statistics,” said Pérez. “Another idea we’re looking at that’s become a best practice on many campuses is to post a notice saying that an organization is under investigation.”
Hazing is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or maintaining membership in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate” (Hoover & Pollard, 1999). The study and prevention of hazing is relatively recent, spearheaded by Elizabeth Allan, the creator of StopHazing. Producing exact and absolute definitions has proven difficult because so much of pledging takes place in secret. There’s a deep-rooted sense of tradition that comes with Greek life and societies, and talk of restricting them evokes strong feelings. Society alums are the school’s largest donors.
StopHazing will conduct focus groups to perform a more in-depth analysis of hazing culture. The purpose of focus groups is to balance out the restrictions of quantitative data like a survey with qualitative data to hopefully give a clearer assessment of the situation.
The research being done for the Committee is a continuation of efforts from the past few years to reshape hazing policy and treatment. Last year, there were considerable changes to the New Member Education process and there was a strong reaction from societies. “We felt blindsided. It didn’t feel like the administration and societies were working as a team,” said fourth-yearOrthogonian Kent Tran. It appears that feeling has carried on into the new school year.
“It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re working as a team now that only a few societies are represented on the Committee,” said fourth-yesr Lancer president Guillermo Giron. There are a total of four Student Representatives on the Committee, including Inter-Society Council representatives. The student Society Development Intern through LEAP is also in committee meetings, although not officially a member.
The first Student-L, sent out Aug. 29, called it “the Committee on New Member Education.” Sports and other organizations were added to consideration at the end of last semester, as it was repeatedly stated that societies are not the only ones who haze. However, sports programs follow their own hazing protocols under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). “I think the difference is that sports recruit mostly before you get to Whittier College, so by the time you get here as a first-year, you already know you’re on that sports team. Societies haveto show up and show everybody who we are and what we’re about,” said Giron. “That’s why we’re so worried about perception. We don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.”
Another concern is that the surveys and focus groups will lead to increased false hazing reports. “Anonymous reports are used as best practices. They’re all followed up on to see if we need a major investigation. The way the form is set up, we know almost immediately if it’s a false claim,” said Pérez. “It’s a method that’s advised by most legal council in higher education institutes.” Last year there were 12 reports, all followed up on by the College, which led to only three major investigations.
Society recruitment is just beginning. Open houses begin Oct. 2 and extend for the various societies until Oct. 13. Members attended the Inter-Society Mixer and the Activities Fair to encourage recruitment. “In the end, we all have the same goal. We want to keep students safe - that’s the most important thing,” said Giron. “I don’t want people to feel like there’s an elitist vibe in societies; for anyone to feel like we think we’re better than them. Any person can join a society. There’s something for everyone.” Until recommendations are released, there is little information for organizations on how the Committee will proceed.