Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is it Hazing? Just Ask.

I've really enjoyed reading and contributing to the #40answers campaign on Twitter, which is an effort to argue against common excuses for hazing.  Thanks to Sigma Nu and PreventHazing.org for this great tool to defeat a persistent scourge of fraternity and sorority life. This post is inspired by the many great conversations happening in that campaign.

When challenged to eliminate hazing from new member education programs, a common response from undergraduates is that it's not that easy.  Because "everything is hazing nowadays."  

My response back to them is “you may be right, but that’s not an excuse.”

Here is why they may be right. Some things are very easy to put into the hazing bucket. Physical beatings, branding, sleep deprivation, forced consumption of alcohol, etc.  But what about scavenger hunts, mandatory meetings, member interviews, taking tests, etc.?  Some may feel that these easily fall into the category of hazing, but I see them more as gray areas. 

We have reached a point where you could list any expectation or activity and somebody out there could find a way to call it hazing. And I've seen some hazing experts and lawyers do just that as a way to show their prowess in understanding the hazing issue. Any skeet that gets sent up gets shot down. But where does this leave the undergraduates?  Confused and annoyed; two qualities that typically don't turn them into changemakers. 

So, I sympathize with those who throw up their hands and say that if everything is hazing, why even try to fight against it?

But here is why it is not an excuse to say that everything can be called hazing.  Greek leaders have resources all around them that can give them guidance and clarification as to whether something is hazing.  And, any new member education activity can be replaced with something better. Except of course for the Ritual.

But back to the original question: how do you know if something is or isn't hazing?

Simple. Just ask.

That's right! For just three easy installments of $19.99, you too can have the "Just Ask" solution! Just kidding of course. It's FREE.

In case you don't see it as that simple, I've mapped out a flowchart of the "Just Ask" solution. See below:

This flowchart assumes that your (inter)national headquarters and/or campus Greek Life professional is willing to let you be honest and forthcoming in sharing the specifics of your new member education program. And, in order for us to get a grip on this issue of hazing, they HAVE to be. Your university, your headquarters, and many other entities across the world have challenged you to rid your organization of hazing, and thus you have the right to challenge them to help you do it. After all, in the case of your headquarters, you pay dues in order to receive services in return. 

Some headquarters and campus professionals will be willing and able to meet this challenge, but others won't be. While I appreciate the amount of energy that goes into philosophically attacking the issue of hazing - and many are prepared to argue against it - we need to direct a large portion of that energy to guidance and support of our undergraduate chapters as they move in the right direction.

Fellow professionals: if we get a willing partner in the undergraduate chapters - willing enough to simply ask whether or not something they view as innocent might be hazing - it is our duty to coach them up. Just saying "stop hazing" without any advice or guidance for something better is like the old hazing activity of dropping someone off in the middle of nowhere and expecting them to make it home.

Undergraduates: Have the courage to show your cards.  If you truly believe you have designed productive and educational activities for your new members, then you have no reason to not check them out with the professionals who are paid (sometimes by you) to help you.

If we meet each other half way, we'll leave hazing in the dust.



4 comments:

  1. John, Thanks for writing this post. There are certainly ways to clarify the grey areas and Fraternity professionals (Headquarters staff) are willing and able to help. I'm sure campus professionals would say the same. Under the right circumstances, with the right oversight, objectives and structure, many 'grey' activities can be productive, developmental, and fun, without being potentially harmful or humiliating. - Steve Hartman, Phi Kappa Tau

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  2. Don't forget about local advisers, as we're often on the front lines of conversations like this. Granted not all advisers are plugged in enough to feel confident in this, we usually have the most face time and need to be empowered to have these conversations with the Brothers.

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  3. Great post John. In our chapter my guys use a simple shake of their pen to signal when they concur with what is being spoken aloud in a meeting (to save on redundant thought/agreement). I'm not sure what the online equivalent of a "pen shake" is, but trust that I am doing that in concurrence with your thoughts!
    --Jeff

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  4. The best thing about your flow chart, John, is that it actually works. It's not just some hair-brained, untested idea, it's a proven formulae for change. But you're right, it hinges on trust, transparency, and belief. Working at a headquarters staff for several years, I witnessed first hand the energy and time that students put in to eliminating hazing if they find themselves in an environment in which they can openly discuss their member education programs without fear of repercussion. It's scary, as a professional, to put yourself out there, knowing the legal liability that accompanies this knowledge. But without that first step, hazing will continue to rot the core values of our members.

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