A Few Anti-Hazing Ideas of My Own

February 13, 2012

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

Since this blog launched a few months back, Rattlers have responded with a bunch of great anti-hazing ideas, sent via submissions to our hazing database, comments on posts, and even the occasional direct email.

This really excites me, since I believe we need some new approaches to solve the hazing problem. I don’t believe that just because some of the things we’ve tried in the past have failed, that means the task can never be accomplished. As I see it, we’ve just discovered a bunch of ways that don’t work, so we need to move past those to get to new ones that do.

In that spirit, here are a few ideas of my own:

Clarify what “zero tolerance” means. From the hazing stories that have surfaced lately, it seems the university responds to hazing incidents primarily through suspensions. Expulsions seem exceedingly rare, and I haven’t come across a case yet where someone was prosecuted criminally at the behest of the university. If an individual victim presses a case, maybe. But you don’t see the university pushing for it much.

That needs to change. Any incident that involves violence or another obvious crime, such as destruction or theft of property, needs to be reported to the police and pursued as far as possible as a criminal matter, not just solved administratively.

For organizations, it should be “one strike and you’re out.” I’ve said before that I believe the Marching 100 should be suspended for at least four years, maybe longer, in order to really clean house following the Robert Champion tragedy. That seems fair and consistent with the university’s existing policies, including its handling of previous hazing incidents within organizations like Kappa Alpha Psi. If that frat got a lengthy ban for seriously injuring a pledge, then the band certainly has to be shut down for awhile for killing someone.

For future incidents, I think the penalty should be even stronger. If an organization is shown to haze violently, it should be banned permanently from FAMU’s campus. Period.

I realize that sounds harsh, but you know what, the orgs at the core of the hazing problem already have two strikes on them. The band and the Greek-letter orgs have already had numerous incidents over the years, so they should already be far along in dealing with hazing internally. If they can’t finish the job now, then time’s up.

The bigger idea at work here is that the university exists for learning first and foremost. All this other stuff is extracurricular — literally “outside the curriculum.” As in, nice to have but ultimately expendable if necessary. These orgs need to get that message, right up to the national level of leadership for those orgs that have such structures.

The kids seem to like this Internet thing. Use it. If nothing else, this site has provided proof of concept that hazing victims and witnesses will speak up if given an online tool that allows anonymous responses. As notoriously difficult as it is to get people to break the code of silence, we’ve already gotten a few dozen detailed incident reports, working as an unofficial organization with zero budget and a webmaster who’s a thousand-plus miles from Tallahassee.

Imagine what the university itself could learn if it took a similar approach.

The crucial thing that online reporting does is that it lowers people’s inhibitions, which can be a good thing. Some victims who might be hesitant to pick up a phone and dial an authority figure, or walk into one’s office in person, might instead be willing to fill out a form from the relative safety of sitting at home in front of a keyboard. Use that to your advantage.

In conjunction with better online data collection, the university should also…

Take a more community-oriented approach to ferreting out hazing abuses. The current system is basically designed to ferret out one hazing case at a time in its particulars. As in: “John got hazed in X organization by Joe, Larry, and Moe, and such-and-such is what we should do about it.”

There’s nothing wrong with that sort of followup, of course. If John wants to come forward and file such a complaint, then he should definitely have options to do so. But that shouldn’t be the minimum bar to clear for the university to take any action at all against hazing.

What anonymized online data collection would allow the university to do is collect a larger number of signals about where hazing abuses lie and then act more preventively, even if each signal has less detail about each individual case.

If, for instance, you get 10 anonymous reports on the same frat, it might be a good idea to call all the members of that frat into a meeting and ask what the heck is going on. Mind you, this wouldn’t be the same as some of the generic anti-hazing briefings that the university now has to inform orgs of FAMU policy, as if nothing is wrong to begin with. I’m talking about putting people on notice about specifics, confronting them with what you’ve got, and going from there.

A conversation of this sort will put much greater fear in the hearts of hazers, and it may encourage some of the pledges to come forward later as well. That’s another lesson we’ve learned about this blog: When one person talks openly about his or her brush with hazing, it often encourages others to do so, some of them in even greater detail.

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