Looking into the haze of hazing investigations

Looking into the haze of hazing investigations

Nathan Tolfa
News Editor

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The Leadership Experience and Programs (LEAP) Office updated their description of the Metaphonian Society to say that Whittier College no longer recognizes them as a College institution. Specifically, under the title “Metaphonians,” they have written, “Suspended until August 2019 for hazing and other violations of the Student Code of Conduct. The society remains unrecognized until further notice.” The Metaphonian Society has declined to comment on this post or any rumors that they are or were under investigation. 

In order to be recognized once again, the Society must apply and complete an approval process put in place by LEAP. College administration has declined to comment on any current or prior hazing investigations, including that of the Metaphonians. However, the Quaker Campus spoke with Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Pérez, Director of Students Rights and Responsibilities Siobhan Skerritt, and LEAP Interim Assistant Director Amanda Lopez about how the College investigates claims of hazing and ensures that Societies are following the Student Code of Conduct during New Member Education (NME).

“Typically, a report [comes in],” said Skerritt, “and a report can come in anonymously, or there can be a name to it. It could be from faculty, staff, off-campus … that’s how [a hazing investigation investigation] starts.” There is an initial investigation conducted — which Skerritt referred to as the “little ‘i’ investigation” — during which Skerritt works to corroborate the report and to determine if the actions described violate the Student Code of Conduct. The code contains a definition of hazing as “an act that endangers (puts at risk) the mental or physical health or safety of a student, or causes physical or psychological harm or social ostracism to any person within the College community, or destroys or removes public or private property, for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a group or organization.”

The College does take some precautions to discourage hazing during NME. Lopez explained that the College does not need to know exactly what societies do during NME season, in which prospective new members are welcomed into the societies. “[With] any values-based organization, there’s a lot of rituals. And so, of course, just for the privacy and the values of those organizations, we don’t ask for any ritualistic information,” said Lopez. However, the societies do give Lopez a basic walk-through of what they plan to do for events during NME season. “Generally speaking, we go through their events — they would give me the name of it, and we’d just have a conversation about what [they] look like,” she said. Lopez herself is not involved in hazing investigations, unless a society under investigations asks her to be present.

“We get this full schedule, and Amanda [Lopez] actually approves or denies the event or activity,” said Skerritt. Should a hazing report come in during NME season, Skerritt explained, they would have a record of times and dates to compare it against. 

If Skerritt determines that the report is accurate and does describe a conduct violation, then the “big ‘I’ investigation” begins. Skerritt will notify the rest of LEAP that the investigation is taking place and will contact the administrators or faculty members that she feels should be involved with the investigation. Skerritt’s contacts vary depending on the investigation. “It is always, always, [determined] case-by-case,” said Skerritt. A Conduct Review Board is then assembled to evaluate the investigation, and, ideally provide a just recommendation as to what action LEAP should take. The Conduct Review Board consists of one student, one faculty member, and one staff member. Skerritt herself does not adjudicate the cases.

According to Pérez, LEAP attempts to assemble an unbiased Conduct Review Board. “Whichever organization is going through the process will be presented with the three people on the [board]. They get to challenge or say, ‘No, I think this person has bias.’ And then we look into it, and if we believe there is [bias], or if enough [students] challenge [the board member], we’ll find someone else.”

The implementation of the Conduct Review Board is fairly recent. “The hazing investigations used to be conducted by one person,” said Pérez. “The policy has not changed, but the way we do investigations has changed.” Whittier College changed its investigative approach in 2016, when Associate Dean for Students Josh Hartman was hired. Both Hartman and Pérez reviewed the College’s approach to hazing investigation and recrafted it to better fit the best practices of other, similar institutions.

The Conduct Review Board will present their findings to LEAP. “99.9 percent of the time, [LEAP’s actions] will not differ from what the recommendations are from the outcome of a conduct process,” said Skerritt. She understands that some students feel as though some of the school’s administrators are biased. “I hear the students, and I understand,” said Skerritt, “but what I want them to understand, at least from the Dean of Students Office, [is that] when it comes to that, we are involved in both conversations to make sure that every part of that process is fair.”