“Hazing has no place in the fraternity experience and men who fail to abide by our principles and to do their part to ensure the fraternity experience is devoid of hazing have no place in our organizations,” said Pete Smithhisler during his testimony to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Pete Smithhisler, President & CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, provided testimony to the Georgia House of Representatives Education Subcommittee on Academic Support during their Hearing on HB 659, a bill to reduce college hazing February 1, 2012. The content that follows below is the written verision of his testimony.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Pete Smithhisler and I am the President and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, commonly referred to within our industry as the NIC. I possess over 20 years of experience as a professional in the fraternity industry, including over 10 years at the NIC. Founded in 1909, the NIC is the trade association representing 75 international and national men’s fraternities. We represent approximately 5,500 chapters located on over 800 campuses in the United States and Canada with approximately 350,000 undergraduate members. The NIC is led by a Board of Directors comprised of nine volunteers from member fraternities, and the headquarters and professional staff are located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Alumni members of NIC groups are found in all 50 states and are overrepresented as leaders of the nation’s political, business and community organizations. Many of you here on this Committee are proud alumni of NIC member organizations.
I have always said that when fraternity is done right, it provides the premiere leadership experience on college campuses. I further believe that fraternities have never been more relevant to a generation of student leaders than we are today because of the values we espouse, the life skills we teach, and the lifelong friendships and support networks we create. Fraternity has the ability to change the lives of individuals, reshape communities, and impact the greater good of all humanity. It is because of this great potential for positive impact that the NIC advocates the needs of its member fraternities through enrichment of the fraternity experience; advancement and growth of the fraternity community; and enhancement of the educational mission of the host institutions.
Unfortunately, while the true purpose of the fraternity experience is to build better men, some of our fraternity members engage in behavior that obscures this goal. This behavior sometimes includes acts of hazing. While hazing is widely recognized as a societal problem that goes far beyond the fraternity house doors, we at the NIC recognize that we in the fraternity community must do our part to seek solutions to eradicate this problem. Hazing has no place in the fraternity experience and men who fail to abide by our principles and to do their part to ensure the fraternity experience is devoid of hazing have no place in our organizations. Specifically, the NIC has re-affirmed its Statement of Position on Hazing and Behavior, which explains that pre-initiation and initiation practices must support the underlying principles for which each member fraternity stands and the underlying principles of all member organizations prohibit hazing of any type. Further, each NIC member organization is charged with encouraging its members to participate in educational programming regarding how to recognize, address and prevent hazing behaviors. The NIC continues its active, long-standing repudiation and disapproval of hazing and does not tolerate, support, or advocate for men, chapters or campuses that engage in these behaviors. The NIC stands ready to assist policymakers at all levels as they seek to raise awareness for the need to enforce existing hazing laws and to ensure these laws are applied to all student groups that might be engaging in hazing activities.
The National Study of Student Hazing, conducted by Elizabeth Allen, Ph.D. and Mary Madden, Ph.D., associate professors at the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, is one of the most comprehensive studies of hazing to date. The research includes survey responses from over 11,000 undergraduate students at 53 colleges and universities across the United States. For the purpose of the survey, “hazing” was defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” The survey asked respondents to identify their involvement in specific types of organizations, clubs or athletic teams and to indicate whether they were witnesses to or participants in various hazing behaviors, such as forced alcohol consumption, public humiliation, verbal abuse, personal servitude, sleep deprivation, kidnapping, and physical abuse and/or assault.
The initial results of the study include the following:
- 55 percent of survey respondents who were involved in collegiate clubs, teams, and organizations reported experiencing hazing as defined by the study.
- 47 percent of survey respondents reported that they had experienced hazing prior to ever setting foot on their college campuses.
- While hazing occurs in Greek-letter organizations, hazing is also prevalent in other student groups including varsity athletics, club sports, intramural teams, military groups, recreation clubs, service fraternities and sororities, performing arts organizations, honor societies, academic clubs, religious organizations and student government.
- The most prevalent types of hazing reported by respondents, regardless of their club, team or organization affiliation, included forced alcohol consumption, public humiliation and sleep deprivation.
- 25 percent of survey respondents who reported being hazed also reported they believed coaches and/or advisors were aware that hazing was taking place and 25 percent of respondents also reported the presence of alumni during hazing activities.
- Survey respondents who reported being hazed stated they were most likely to talk about their experiences with other members of the club, team or organization and least likely to discuss their experience with the team coach or organization advisor, other college officials, and law enforcement.
- Survey respondents who reported being hazed were more likely to identify with perceived positive impacts of hazing, such as a higher sense of belonging, as opposed to identifying with perceived negative impacts of hazing, such as feelings of humiliation, academic struggles, consideration of quitting the team or organization, or consideration of transferring to another school.
- When survey respondents who reported being hazed were asked why they did not report the activities to authorities, the most common responses were rationalizations of why the activity was acceptable and therefore there being no reason to report it. The most common reasons for those who may have felt the behavior was unacceptable to still not report the behavior were not wanting to get their team or organization in trouble and fear of retribution.
- Survey respondents seem to identify hazing within organizations and teams as a typical and tolerable aspect of a campus culture.
- Only half of survey respondents reported being made aware of campus hazing policies during orientation. The same percentage reported being made aware of organization or team hazing policies upon joining the team or organization. Finally, only half of survey respondents reported being made aware of how to report suspected hazing activities.
- 90 percent of survey respondents who reported having experienced specific hazing behaviors also stated they believed they had not been hazed.
The research cited for this testimony as well as other research in this field combined with the prevalence of media coverage regarding specific hazing incidents make it clear that hazing is a societal ill that is pervasive across all spectrums of student life, both within secondary education and higher education. As with all societal ills, we must address the ill in a manner that is both prevention-based and response-based. We cannot be satisfied knowing that only half of students entering colleges and universities are made aware of their campuses’ policy on hazing. Likewise, within our industry, we cannot be satisfied knowing only half of our new members are made aware of our organizations’ hazing policies. The first step towards achieving our goal of better addressing hazing is to increase policy awareness from the earliest stages of university enrollment and subsequent team or organization involvement. Many of the NIC’s member fraternities have policies in place that require all new members to review and sign the organization’s hazing policy, but there is no doubt we can collectively do more to ensure that everyone is aware of both the existence and significance of this policy.
While making students aware of hazing policies is an important aspect of the fight against hazing, simply informing students of an institutional hazing policy is insufficient; we must also improve our efforts to educate students of the dangers of hazing. Students must have the knowledge and understanding that the perceived positive impacts of hazing, such as building a stronger bond, are misinformed and they must be made aware of the very real negative impacts of hazing. Students must be made to understand the concepts of values congruence, social justice and social responsibility, both holistically and as they specifically apply to hazing. Students must continue to receive leadership development training to learn the skills necessary to confront their peers in a meaningful way. Students must also be fully informed of the resources available to report alleged hazing in a manner that minimizes their fears of retribution. Finally, students should have both knowledge and understanding of the legal consequences of hazing.
The NIC and our member fraternities offer intensive values-based leadership development education programming to our undergraduate members. This programming includes discussions on the negative impacts of hazing and how to stand up to such behavior. Unfortunately, we collectively face very real financial and manpower resource restrictions that limit our ability to meet our goals of reaching every member. To address this shortfall, the NIC advocates for the creation of for-credit coursework in leadership development for new members of our organizations. We believe such coursework would further assist in our efforts to educate students on many issues relevant to their experiences in our organizations, including the issue of hazing. In order to address hazing effectively, there must also be a concerted and coordinated effort to train and educate the individuals that are likely to witness or respond to hazing on college campuses. This audience includes local law enforcement, the school’s law enforcement or security force, university faculty, organizational advisors and other alumni, coaches, and resident hall advisors. All too often, these potential first responders are bystanders because they are not properly equipped to identify hazing activities or they do not view those behaviors as problematic.
In addition to increased educational and preventative measures, addressing hazing must also involve response-based enforcement and accountability. Individuals must be held accountable for their actions just as they should when they break any other laws or violate any other organizational policies or codes of conduct. The NIC’s member fraternities can and do take appropriate action against their chapters when hazing is reported and verified. Hazing responses should do more to address the behavior of the individuals who violate the laws and policies of the groups to which they belong, the institutions at which they are enrolled, and the states in which they reside. The NIC supports this bill because it shows a desire to focus accountability on individuals involved in this unacceptable behavior. Thank you.