Reforming campus culture to promote student safety

Research conducted last year by the Hazing Prevention Consortium found that “more than half of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing”— a statistic far greater than what I hoped to learn.

As alumni advisor for the Zeta Psi chapter at the University of Texas, I interact with young men from all walks of life, with their whole lives still ahead of them. Like any other fraternity alumni advisor, my role is to offer knowledge, advice and guidance about how to navigate their launch from campus life into adulthood. These interactions have been richly rewarding for me, and I feel a deep sense of pride in and responsibility for the students in my chapter. The job also brings me into contact with national fraternity executives, university officials and parent organizations, all of whom work independently to make the college experience as robust and as safe as possible.  

Alarmingly, we’re witnessing a spike in the number of hazing-related injuries and deaths on various college campuses. Some 25 young men have died in the last decade. Three of those deaths were at UT alone — Gabe Higgins, Tyler Cross and Nicky Cumberland — all died due to utterly pointless group hazing behaviors. Untold numbers of students — around 60 percent of whom belong to non-Greek organizations — continue to suffer needless physical and emotional injury as well, all because of wrong- headed “bonding” or “character-building” activities that range in intensity from merely stupid to nauseatingly sadistic.

Mentoring students comes with heavy responsibility, and hazing reform has never been so important: We must act. We are making strides with the launch of Parents and Alumni for Student Safety (PASS). Our statewide mission is to end hazing through education, oversight and advocacy. Working with fraternities, sororities and other student organizations, parent groups and university officials, PASS leads a collaborative effort to reform bad practices and empower students to make wiser, better-informed and healthier decisions.

We are committed to accelerating change within the student organizations we advise, providing real-life, useful tools to students, parents, alumni and leaders to create culture change and end the code of silence around harmful activities like binge drinking, personal servitude, physical and psychological abuse, and other bad behaviors which have no legitimate role to play in any student organization. Silence around these problems not only perpetuates them over time, but worsens outcomes, with students often unaware of what to do or even fearful of intervening when they see something wrong or dangerous. We have seen case after case of students sustaining major bodily injury or death when their friends — afraid of the consequences to themselves or their organizations — could have saved them simply by calling 911 for help.

Bright spots in the reform movement involve enhanced alcohol education (especially about binge drinking), enhanced training about sexual misconduct and consent and hard alcohol bans at fraternity events. Another major focus is to help students understand the various options to take care of their friends and peers who may need their help, without getting themselves into trouble. Such “bystander intervention” amnesty policies can make a big difference. According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, “the Texas 9-1-1 Lifeline Law prevents a person under 21 from being charged by the police for possessing or consuming alcohol if he/she takes a person to receive emergency treatment or calls 911 due to possible overdose of alcohol.”

Awareness of these options is crucial in reforming campus culture and empowering students to understand the importance one decision can make in the life of another. College should be the beginning of a kid’s life, not the end. Let’s #EndHazingNow.

Parents and Alumni for Student Safety: Our mission is to end hazing through education, oversight, and advocacy.