The REACH Act: A Hazing Dog & Pony Show

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Imagine if you spent your entire career worried that you would be blamed for something. Such is the role of a government official and any governing position, including college/university administrations and fraternity/sorority professionals. 

Whether it’s temporarily banishing fraternity/sorority activities on campus or literally using students as customer laborers for our pet projects, we have a habit of ineffective attempts to curb public hatred of us as politicians, college administrators and fraternity men and women. The REACH Act, a bill that would require any college receiving federal aid to report hazing statistics in their annual report and provide hazing education to all students.

It is being championed by legislators desperate for strong relationships with helicopter parents and, you guessed it, your very own fraternity or sorority. Even Penn State’s leaders, who recently imposed failed policies like “zero tolerance” for hazing and deferred rush in an attempt to shut parents up until the next student death, have endorsed the measure.

Think about that: The people who have supposedly avoided publishing hazing information, who make this bill relevant, are endorsing a measure to require that they publish the information.

That says plenty about the leadership of our country. It is all one big dog and pony show.

Why is the REACH Act bad, you ask? Why wouldn’t we want colleges reporting this information? Here’s a brief list.

1. The proposed measure operates on a loose, subjective definition of hazing

Here is the definition of hazing provided in the proposed law:

Any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, or a former student, whether individually or in concert with other persons, against another student, and in which both of the following apply:

(a) The act was committed in connection with an initiation into, an affiliation with or the maintenance of membership in any organization that is affiliated with such educational institution.

(b) The act contributes to a substantial risk of potential physical injury, mental harm or degradation or causes physical injury, mental harm or personal degradation.

Conveniently, this law doesn’t address hazing as a whole, only on college campuses. It is a law targeted specifically at students attending universities receiving federal funding (virtually all of them) and specifically leaves out organizations not affiliated with colleges or universities. There is no demand that the MLB publish a similar report for a good reason – The MLB doesn’t receive federal funding. This is one of many reasons why we should catalyze the formal divorce of Fraternity and Higher Education.

I’ll post more on that later this week.

 

2. It feigns action to buy time until the next incident

Let’s be honest. This doesn’t require anything of parents, fraternity/sorority professionals or lawmakers once this bill is passed. The Clery Act, which requires that colleges and universities report criminal activity on campus, did just that. Requiring schools to report this information also requires that they investigate this information and that people pay attention to the information.

I can guarantee that almost none of the organizations endorsing REACH are going to publish annual reports and deliver them to all parents, informing them of the fact that their child is at risk. This is merely a way for some politicians to pad their credentials before the next election, and for we fraternity/sorority professionals to look tough in the face of hazing, where we already spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on prevention measures with little to show for it.

What this bill actually does, thanks to its federal aid requirement, is put taxpayers on the hook for hazing education. Which leads to a final point.

 

3. It increases the cost of education, which hurts the fraternity/sorority business

Assuming that most colleges and universities are strapped for cash, which most pretend to be as they install their newest fountain and rock wall, this law will require one of three things to support the hiring and training of staff to provide training to millions of students across the nation.

One – Tuition will increase to fund the new educational and investigatory requirements.

Two – Fees targeting specific student organizations (cough Greek Life Fees) will be imposed, diminishing the incentive to join and accessibility of said organizations.

Three – Colleges and universities will lobby for another measure that will grant federal funding to colleges and universities to provide these services, increasing their operating costs via the blank check provided by the Federal Reserve Bank.

WHAT WE SHOULD DEMAND

I don’t recall the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference requesting that member organizations distribute polls prior to endorsing this law, but many have. Even Penn State acknowledges that they are so inept that they require being forced by law to report these statistics. (That’s more likely one of the funding issues covered in point 3, be sure that Penn State will receive more federal funding if this is passed).

What REACH really does is divert responsibility for the act of hazing away from lawmakers, fraternities and sororities, who can now point to a law they passed to try and eliminate hazing. It relieves parents and students of the obligation to demand this type of information from the colleges/universities they fund. It allows colleges and universities to report statistics because they were required to by law, not because of their souring relationship with parents.

As fraternity and sorority leaders, we should instead be focused on working with students and parents to hold universities accountable. We should be establishing parent/student clubs equivalent to PTA’s to independently report this information and shame those colleges and universities which fail to participate.

If we want to put an end to hazing, coalitions like that mentioned above are the way to do it. Laws do not change culture (“The South” didn’t exist as a unit until after “Reconstruction,” facilitated by troops of the Union army), social pressure changes culture. Instead of spending student dues and alumni donations on ineffective leadership programming and enforcing unnecessarily complex standards programs, let’s put our efforts into something valuable, like working with parents and students to keep tuition low and colleges transparent.