Michael Hayes, ’84, GR ’86, is leading the national discussion about how to eradicate hazing in high schools and college. At Indiana State, officials in Greek life, athletics and band work to educate Sycamores about what hazing looks like and why it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Asked to mentally flip through his fraternity days, Michael Hayes’ memories are encased in stories of brotherhood and building lifelong friendships with his fellow Pi Kappa Alphas at Indiana State University.
But as executive director of campus life/director of student involvement and leadership at Washington University in St. Louis, Hayes is keenly aware of how Greek life at colleges and universities nationwide has been plagued in recent years by highly publicized cases of hazing, alcohol use and sexual violence.
He’s working now to right the wrongs as a member of the Commission on Hazing Awareness and Prevention — one of three independent commissions created by the North-American Interfraternity Conference to evaluate these issues of importance to the fraternity industry and higher education.
“(Hazing) is about people exhibiting power to keep another from something,” said Hayes, who has both a bachelor’s degree in sociology (’84) and master’s degree in student affairs (’86) from Indiana State. “It happens at varying levels, but any campus that says they don’t have hazing is in a bit of denial.”
The work kicked off in August when the NIC — an Indianapolis-based trade association that represents 74 international and national men’s fraternities — set up the commissions with representation from higher education, university presidents and national fraternity movement.
The initiative began with monthly phone calls and will continue this summer with in-person meetings, as the commission works to “take a bite out of the problem,” Hayes said.
“I’m not sure what that bite will look like, but we’ll at least move in a more deliberate and measureable way than in the past, as hazing is not a new phenomenon on college campuses,” he said. “But as the cost of higher education grows and more cases make national headlines, I think parents realize they’re not sending their kids to school for this and they want something done.”
It’s a call heard loud and clear by the NIC, which has given the commissions 18 months to conduct in-depth, issue-specific research that identifies innovative opportunities to help it and its member fraternities tackle these problems. A comprehensive, action-oriented findings report is expected to be delivered to Pete Smithhisler, NIC’s president and CEO, by April 1, 2016.
“Generationally, there have been discussions on these issues in the past, but now we’re putting everything on the table,” Smithhisler said. “We want to advance the conversation about these issues in higher education and be proactive in order to make all college campuses safer for everyone.”
HAZING VS. BULLYING
Of the many first-time experiences students encounter in college, hazing is rarely one of them. Almost half — 47 percent — of students reported being hazed in high school, according to a 2007 national hazing study by University of Maine researchers.
The most comprehensive study of hazing to date, it includes survey responses from more than 11,000 undergraduates at 53 colleges and universities across the U.S., as well as interviews with more than 300 students and staff on 18 campuses.
Once at college, the study found more than half of the students in clubs, teams and organizations who were surveyed said they’d been hazed as a member of those groups. The most reported hazing practices were alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation and sex acts.
Unlike bullying, which intends to cause harm, hazing brings a person into a group over the long-term, said Chris MacDonald, professor of educational and school psychology at Indiana State. Hazing also tends to occur within groups that people want to join and is thought mostly to impact students in middle school or older.
“The behavior associated with hazing and bullying can look the same — they can both be insulting, physically aggressive or aggressive to somebody often on an ongoing basis — but I think one of the things that tend to separate them is intent,” MacDonald said. “It’s been suggested that what’s involved in hazing is cognitive dissonance. If you endure hazing, it’s because you really value the group or you wouldn’t put up with it.”
But, as Hayes tells students, “Even if someone is willing to do it, it’s still not OK.”
Hayes, who began a career in higher education in 1987 following his post-graduate work at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, has served as director of fraternity and sorority life at the University of Maryland-College Park and as director of research, graduate studies and professional education at Cornell University.
He is in his sixth year at Washington University, where he provides vision and oversight of campus life programs, including student involvement and leadership, Greek life, student media and social programming organizations.
“We want students to run their actions through a value system: Is this something you would do in front of your parents or me, as a dean of campus life? How does it fit in with the values of the organization you represent?” Hayes said. “I’ve spent 30-ish years on a college campus, and I hope every student thrives and finds what they care about while at college. If things like this get in the way, universities should be obligated to remove these obstacles to student success.”
HANDLING HAZING AT HOME
Education on what hazing is and what it looks like is one of the most proactive — and often the most challenging — steps to take with students, said Bo Mantooth, director of fraternity and sorority life at Indiana State.
“We spend a large amount of our time educating our students at the beginning of every semester on what hazing is because we want them to be able to understand and recognize what it is, so they know the mechanisms to report it — through our office, their national organization or through the Office of Student Conduct and Integrity,” he said. “There’s also a national Hazing Prevention Week every September, and our office has done a couple different things (during that week) to get the word out about what hazing is. Hazing is one of those things that’s been around so long that it’s challenging to define it because once you give students an example of what hazing is, they’ll find something we didn’t list that is hazing.”
Nearly 1,400 students — almost 15 percent of the total student body — are involved in Indiana State’s 27 social sororities and fraternities. That is up from around 950 students when Mantooth started two years ago. In those two years, he said there has been one reported case of hazing.
“It’s our responsibility as campus partners to educate students on what (hazing) is so they know how to stop it, then it’s up to them,” Mantooth said. “You’re just as responsible for letting yourself be hazed as you are if you are the hazer.”
While the commissions are directly addressing hazing in fraternities, the problem isn’t exclusive to them. Hayes hopes the ideas can be applied broadly to combat hazing in other areas, like in bands and athletics.
Such matters appear to be rare in Sycamore Athletics, where no cases of hazing have come across the desk of Joel McMullen, assistant athletic director for NCAA Compliance & Eligibility who has handled compliance issues at Indiana State for eight years.
But hazing is addressed in the Student Athlete Handbook, where it is defined “as any activity whether physical, mental, emotional or psychological, which subjects another person voluntarily or involuntarily, to anything that may abuse, mistreat, degrade, humiliate, harass, or intimidate him/her, or compels another member to participate in any activity which is against University policy or state/federal law.”
“(The policy) hasn’t changed in quite some time, but it suits us because it’s broadly written and gives us discretion to decide what hazing is and take appropriate action,” McMullen said.
Student-athletes fill out a mandatory online compliance form and questionnaire at the beginning of each school year and are asked to sign their names to acknowledge and verify that they’ve read the handbook, including the hazing policy.
McMullen’s office follows up by meeting with all of the university’s athletic teams to address topics like hazing. Students are reminded that Indiana is a duty to report state, which requires anyone who knows hazing is happening to report it. If they don’t, they could be held liable.
“Basically, it’s a simple message we give them: Don’t do it,” McMullen said. “If you see it being done, you are obligated to report it, much like an NCAA infraction.”
Nicole Gross, who is in her second year as director of athletic bands at Indiana State, said the band handbook contains a hazing policy and also states the university’s code of student conduct, along with a few myths about hazing.
The handbook also lists a web address to Indiana State’s definition of hazing as stated in Indiana code — forcing or requiring another person to “with or without the consent of the other person; and as a condition of association with a group or organization to perform an act that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury. The university’s policy also contains “a non-conclusive list” of 34 activities that are considered hazing.
“These particular policies are covered with the leaders of the band program prior to band camp, and once everyone is assembled during band camp we take some time as a full group to go through all of the policies in the handbook,” Gross said. “In the marching band here we try to establish an environment in which students are welcomed and they feel that it is a safe environment in which they can grow and achieve, but also a safe environment in which they can come to leadership, be that students or myself, to report any incidences or to discuss any concerns they might have.”
It takes a team effort to combat hazing, so Mantooth said it is effective to engage faculty members and other campus partners so they are well-versed in the tell-tale signs of hazing, like a student being late to class or wearing the same clothes they wore two days ago.
“It can be hard for students to tell their peers to step up, so we do a lot of general on-campus bystander intervention training that is revolved around supporting each other and not letting something bad happen to one another,” he said. “I learned at my previous institution that when you say ‘hazing’ to an 18- or 19-year-old, they turn you off. Instead, we refer to it as ‘positive new member education,’ which makes it a more positive conversation about promoting and learning the values and ethics of your organization in order to be good members because a good member doesn’t haze.”