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Technicalities of disciplining student organizations for hazing

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Illustration by: Alyssa Curry | Staff Illustrator

Last month, Texas State administration disseminated a hazing memorandum via email to remind people of the university’s policy regarding the behavior expected of student organizations.

The memorandum, issued on Sept. 19, announced the probation, deferred suspension and outright suspension of nine student organizations administered within the past four years. Despite the ease with which such sentences are announced, the process of taking disciplinary action against a student organization is a long and complicated one.

“Suspension means that the organization will be prohibited from maintaining a relationship with the university for a specified period of time, and cannot have a presence on campus,” said Margarita Arellano, who serves as both Dean of Students and Associate VP for Student Affairs. “They cannot post flyers, cannot reserve a room or hold meetings. When they are on suspension, this chapter of the organization ceases to exist.”

When it comes to violation of university policy, the Dean of Students Office oversees individual conduct, while Student Involvement is responsible for handling cases involving entire organizations.

“Individual student conduct issues have major consequences for students, whereas even if we suspend an organization, all the individual students can still continue attending school,” Arellano said. This makes sanctions taken against organizations much more difficult to enforce than those taken against individual students, she explained.

If the president, vice president and officers of an organization are liable for individual sanctions, they may be called forth to be disciplined by Student Affairs, and have sanctions placed upon their organization by Student Involvement, Arellano said.

These offices receive reports of policy violation through a variety of sources. Sometimes complaints arrive anonymously from students, concerned parents and faculty members, friends or significant others. At this point, the Organization Conduct Review board will open a formal investigation, often resulting in a decision to discipline the organization in question.

If an organization wishes to contest a decision, it will make its appeal to the Dean of Students Office, but must provide new evidence in order to have its case reconsidered. After the new evidence is reviewed, the sanctions can either be repealed, decreased, upheld, or increased.

Organizations have two chances to appeal, the second of which is made to the Vice President for Student Affairs, Joanne Smith, who makes the final decision and ultimately closes the case.

“It must be understood that hazing does not occur only within Greek life,” Arellano said. “Hazing can happen in any organization. Nationally, it has happened in the band, in athletic teams, in honors organizations, in academic organizations, even some ROTC groups. Hazing can happen in any type of organization.”

The frequency of appeals depends entirely on context, including the number of incidents per semester. In a year, the university will see approximately three, Arellano said.

“There are two things that have to be determined when an organization has been accused of hazing,” said Brenda Lenartowicz, Associate Director of the Student Center. “First, are we dealing with a minor violation or a major violation? And secondly, is this information accurate? Many of our organizations, especially our Greek ones, use very similar lettering. Also, we have organizations that use Greek letters that aren’t necessarily fraternities and sororities. So part of our job is to determine whether the information we’ve been gathering is accurate.”

Allegations of improper conduct transverse a diverse array of channels, but often end up with Student Justice, a volunteer body responsible for facilitating accountability among its peers. If this group suspects organizational involvement in hazing or similar activities, it is obligated to pass the case on to Lenartowicz’s office.

“If we receive a hazing allegation, we interview the organization’s new members and anyone responsible for interacting with the new members,” Lenartowicz said.

A minor violation could entail anything from a solicitation rule being broken to a fight breaking out between organizations over a particular space in the quad. Major violations would entail something more serious—including any instance in which an individual’s safety was compromised—and will likely result in suspension.

Sigma Delta Lambda, one of the organizations listed in the recent hazing memorandum, has been suspended for no less than five years, and will be allowed to return to activity in good standing in 2021.

Suspension has no maximum or minimum limit. In most cases, suspensions will last between one and two years, and will be increased to five upon a second offense. The rationale behind this tendency is the group of students causing trouble will have graduated and left by the time the suspension has run its course.

“If a suspension only lasts two years, the generation of students who caused the problem isn’t gone yet, so the culture has not changed,” Arellano said.

The national body of the organization can revoke a particular branch’s charter and has the power to deliver its own suspension, which might be longer than that of the university. Although the university and the national body are each capable of issuing their own penalties, they cannot contest one another’s. Hypothetically speaking, in the event the university issued a sanction the organization’s national body believed was too harsh, the university’s ruling prevails—typically, however, both parties are in agreement.

Student Government President Andrew Homann agrees disciplinary action is necessary to maintain accountability, but said he believes it could be more effective when combined with education.

“I don’t think a few rotten eggs should cause the whole organization to suffer,” Homann said. “I don’t necessarily believe that Student Government should have any authority when it comes to disciplining organizations, but if anyone feels those protocols are unfair or need to be changed, they’re welcome to bring it to one of our legislative sessions.”