Uniting Voices in Education
Being aware of an issue is essentially just a foot in the door while becoming educated on an issue is the act of opening the door and welcoming change. There are countless individuals working to research and relay any information they can in regard to hazing prevention, intervention, and elimination. All of their hard work means nothing if the world does not listen to their findings. Hear their story.
Despite hazing being a campus-wide issue, the Greek community has witnessed some of the most severe cases occurring within its realm. However, true fraternity is such that hazing cannot coexist if members are properly practicing brotherhood or sisterhood and holding one another accountable. This places fraternities and sororities in a unique position to take the strongest stand and be the loudest voice in opposition to unsafe behavior. It is owed to Timothy Piazza, Max Gruver, their families, and anyone else that has been affected, directly or indirectly, by hazing. Listening to their stories is the beginning, but to truly honor them, it is vital to reflect and understand what other lessons have been learned and how they can shape the future.
The Time is Now
After spending over 25 years working face-to-face with students across a multitude of campuses and now directly with research faculty, Stevan Veldkamp, Executive Director of the Piazza Center, feels there is a unique cultural shift occurring that may help create stronger, safer, and more inclusive chapters. “This should be seen as a moment of healing and a time to recognize that everyone needs to do better work in reuniting Greek organizations with the campus.” With an ever-increasing focus on removing barriers of entry to create welcoming and inclusive spaces, universities and fraternities alike are reassessing how to best serve their students. As components of the college experience, their missions must be aligned with the current social climate.
Fraternities and sororities are part of a campus community, not separate from it. The members within a brotherhood or sisterhood are still students, and they deserve to be supported by those who have their best interest at heart. While the university may be charged with ensuring a student’s academic education and safety, a fraternal group is best positioned to support their character education, ethical leadership, and enhanced learning. If the two are not done in harmony, it is a missed opportunity for our students. We have an opportunity for open dialogue, mission symmetry, and reconciliation.
Fraternities and sororities are part of a campus community, not separate from it.
Looking Past Blame
In instances where hazing has occurred, it is extremely important to identify the agents of negativity and see that they are held accountable for their actions. In the grander scheme of campus life, though, it is also important to be cautious of how blame is applied if a change is going to be effective. There is a triangle of activity that occurs between the student body, college administration, and external entities such as national and international fraternity and sorority leadership.
On the campus itself, a Greek organization is but one way for students to group together, build relationships, invest in their communities, and socialize. Oftentimes there are other places where the same is occurring, such as varsity sports, school band, dance clubs, and so on. In order to eliminate hazing, all student groups need to work together towards a common goal: the safety and wellbeing of students. This requires taking a step past “who might be more at fault?” and a step towards “how do we work together to fix it?”
Recognizing that hazing occurs throughout the student body puts the issue in its full context, ensuring that policies will serve and protect all students while simultaneously holding everyone equally accountable, not just those in particular organizations. It also brings the students, national organizations, and administration into the same conversation without alienating or placing undue burden onto any one specific party. Only then can a productive conversation be had that will ultimately benefit all three while sharing the responsibility and the resources needed to create a solution. If any party attempts to absolve itself of responsibility, feeling that someone else should be charged with that commitment, then whatever progress is made may be undermined by inconsistent messaging or incomplete policy.
Anyone can be the catalyst for this change if they are willing to speak up for what is right, just as loudly as the voices they are opposing.
“Don’t Do It” Isn’t Working
Whenever solving a complex problem, there is always a time when methods and strategies should be reassessed for effectiveness. “Don’t haze” has been a mantra and a mission for years, and yet, there are still new cases and student deaths. This does not mean that saying “no” to hazing is wrong, but it indicates that a more refined delivery of that same message may be more effective. Telling students not to haze may resonate with someone that is already practicing proper fraternity, but to someone that is not, the words fall on deaf ears. Instead of assuming that a groundbreaking solution is required, time would be better spent applying other proven strategies for dealing with similar issues.
As an example, it has long been the case that the loudest voices in a room, regardless of the truth, or lack thereof, that they hold, typically command the most attention. This means that people who are perpetrating negative behaviors often intimidate others into believing their actions are the status quo. “It’s what we’ve always done” is a tired excuse used to shut down diverse thoughts and prevent change. Once that stagnation is allowed to set in, it infects fraternities and sororities with groupthink that can quickly spread and warp reality to whatever those loudest voices desire.
Combatting this can be as straight-forward as diluting those negative voices and removing them from the organization. Speaking out against a behavior, questioning an activity, or asking someone for help are all ways to change the conversation and point it in a positive direction. Hoping that a bully will see the error of their ways because they watched an anti-bullying seminar is a longshot. Expecting a bully to change their ways by surrounding them with a culture that calls out their behaviors early and makes them aware that their actions will not be tolerated is a solution.
Anyone can be the catalyst for this change if they are willing to speak up for what is right, just as loudly as the voices they are opposing. With a catalyst comes momentum, and with momentum comes change. If hazing is to be stopped, then change is a necessity, but it does not occur without action.
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