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 using students as customer laborers, we tend to favor quick public relations wins over long-term, effective solutions as politicians, college administrators and fraternity men and women. The REACH Act is 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 a multi-partisan swath of politicians and your very own fraternity or sorority due in part to the reporting of excessive hazing. Even Penn State’s leaders, who are taking hazing seriously, for real this time, have endorsed the measure.

Think about that: The organizations that have apparently avoided reporting this information, the ones targeted by this legislation, support the legislation but have chosen not to provide such statistics until it is required by law.

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

What I find wrong about The REACH Act is not the intent of curbing dangerous hazing activities in this country. I don’t favor “inaction,” I simply oppose the imposition of rules as a substitute for genuine leadership. Here are some concerns I have with this hazing legislation:

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.

This law is targeted specifically at students attending universities receiving federal funding (virtually all of them) and specifically leaves out organizations not affiliated with colleges or universities. It is not a response to “hazing,” it is a response to hazing at colleges and universities. The problem doesn’t start there, and this definition still leaves plenty of wiggle room regarding what the problem is. Perhaps focusing on things already against the law, better defined, and routinely involved in hazing – such as assault, battery, defamation, etc. – would be a better way to go.

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 expect 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.

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

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

3 – Colleges and universities will lobby for another measure that will grant federal funding to colleges and universities to provide these services, increasing their operating revenue via taxpayers.

WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT

I don’t recall the North American Inter-Fraternity Conference requesting that member organizations distribute polls prior to endorsing this law, but many have.

The REACH Act diverts responsibility for the act of hazing away from lawmakers, fraternities and sororities, who will point to this law they passed as a major achievement. 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 they owe such information to paying students and 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 call out those colleges and universities which fail to participate.

If we want to put an end to hazing, coalitions between people with skin in the game should be the strategy.

Laws do not change culture (“The South” didn’t exist as a unit until after “Reconstruction”), social pressure changes culture. Report the statistics now – don’t wait for a law – and team up with students and parents to make it happen.