In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student & Athlete Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by educator-turned-consultant Dr. Dawn Wiese to discuss the complexities of hazing in fraternities and other organizations on campus, as well as in other settings prior to and beyond college. The conversation takes place in light of the newly-enacted Collin’s Law, which toughens Ohio’s hazing violations.
Susan Stone: Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. We’re full-time moms and attorneys bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real, candid conversations. Today’s topic is hazing. And what prompted us to want to talk about hazing this month is that on October 7th in Ohio, Collins law was passed. And that law now makes stricter sanctions for individuals who are found responsible for participating in hazing, in either fraternities or other organizations on campus. And Kristina, we’ve dealt with a lot of hazing cases in our practice and we don’t see it going away. What do you think?
Kristina Supler: I think this is such an important topic; we’re so pleased to be joined today by Dr. Dawn Wiese to speak with us about hazing, because hazing is a situation where there’s no win, win. In fact, it’s lose, lose so often. Students are in terrible positions, their organization, sports teams, any sort of group. There’s a struggle there with how to address and respond and then institutions as well, high schools, colleges, they have their views and obligations, and we don’t have to get into all the legalese of it. But it’s just a tough topic because at the end of the day, we want students to be together and bond and have fun, but in a safe way. So as I mentioned, we’re so pleased today to have Dr. Wiese with us.
Susan: Dr. Wiese, it’s hard to find the right person to talk about this very critical issue that has had terrible consequences in the state of Ohio. We know about two hazing deaths, and we were looking for the right person and called around and all roads led back to you. I just want to brag about you for a moment. You are a former Dean of freshman at Washington and Lee, where you also then served as the vice president for student affairs and Dean of students. And now you are a consultant, and I know that you have consulted in many cases on the issue of hazing. So I welcome you and can’t wait to get some information. So to kick it off, as we’ve said, we’ve seen a lot of hazing going on in fraternities. And could you tell us a little bit about what you know about hazing?
Dr. Dawn Wiese: Sure. And I think you’re right in terms of how you capture it is a complex issue and it’s a difficult to talk about issue, because it’s, you talk about it and then it’s suddenly, oh, we can’t talk about this anymore. This is a horrible thing. The complexity of it and understanding the complexity of it, particularly for parents, is so important. And I’ll start by saying, I’m also the parent of, I’m a parent of a current college senior. So I’m not only seeing the college experience for my own professional experience, but now going through it as a mom. So let me start by saying hazing is a problem. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. It is something that as parents, we need to be thinking about as college administrators think about it, all of those things.
It’s also important to recognize that it’s not isolated to college campuses, and certainly not isolated to Greek life. One of the great misnomers is that if your student joins fraternity or sorority, they’re going to experience hazing. That’s not necessarily true. And we can talk more about what that means. In fact, I would argue that most times it’s not true, but we could talk more about that in a bit. Hazing starts in elementary school, maybe even earlier, I don’t know, but in terms of documentation on it, it’s back to those very early years as learned behavior with a spotlight really going on during those college years. And fraternities, I think provide a good, a good way to draw attention to it. Although you see it in other ways in the medium, we can talk more about that.
Kristina: Susan, I think it’s so interesting. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, when Dr. Wiese says that hazing starts in elementary school. It makes me think about our cases in the special ed context, but also in other contexts, when we’re representing young students who are dealing with issues involving bullying and harassment and it’s, I mean, what do you think Susan, it’s interesting to see fast forward?
Susan: I want to ask you a question, because we know that for younger children, everything happens in one of two places: the playground or the bus. And the jargon for younger children would be, as Kristina said, bullying. So I want to get our definition straight and make sure that we’re all talking about the same thing. When you say hazing early on as elementary school, how do you define that term?
Dr. Wiese: I think that’s a great question. Are you, were you asking me, are we asking Kristina?
Susan: No, I’m at asking you, yeah.
Dr. Wiese: So, I would put all of this under the category of harassment, certainly a very weighty legal term in that there’s hazing, there’s bullying. Hazing, I think tends to be when you’re talking more about those rites of passage or joining something while bullying may be restricting. But really what we’re talking about regardless is harassment and that, and yes, harassment on the playground, in the workplace. It is certainly not isolated to college campuses.
Susan: That’s interesting. So would you define hazing as if you want to be in our group, you have to wear the same Jordache jeans… I’m dating myself, Dr. Wiese… For all out there, do you remember I’m 55, Gloria Vanderbilt and the comb in the back pocket? I digress, but go on.
Dr. Wiese: I had those Jordache, I begged for them. So I remember them well. So hazing, yes, could well be that or hazing could be used from a bullying perspective as well of trying to haze someone out of something, right? So to say that it is just one thing, again, that’s why I tend toward that larger umbrella of harassment.
Kristina: I’m curious, this umbrella of harassment, hazing… I think everyone would agree hazing on the surface is a bad thing. And I think perhaps where people part ways is what is hazing. But I want to circle back to something you said a few minutes ago about really emphasizing, it’s not limited to Greek life. And I would certainly concur and that Susan and I in our law practice representing students across the country, we see it in a multitude of contexts, not just Greek life. But I mean, talk a little bit more about your belief that fraternities aren’t really the problem here.
Dr. Wiese: Sure. So thanks for asking that. So, does hazing sometimes happen in fraternities or Greek life? Yes. Does it happen in athletics? Sometimes, yes. Does it happen in marching bands? Sometimes, yes. Does it happen in groups that none of us know about? Yes. And so that’s really what the issue is. And so I would argue that… let me go to the concept of the Greek system… is that the Greek system is not where the issue is. And in fact, I would argue it’s one of the solutions. And so an example, let’s talk about institutions where there’s no Greek life. Does that mean there is no hazing? Absolutely not.
As a vice president on a campus with Greek life, I relied on those national fraternal partners to be a part of the education solution. And that’s why I think it’s important not to think of hazing as a Greek problem, but rather a larger educational issue, that the education can come from from many different places. And so then it becomes understanding, what are the types of organizations that your students are choosing to join when they go to college. And then what does that mean? And what are your conversations with your student?
Susan: I have to ask the challenging question though. I agree with you because Kristina and I have cases where there’s hazing on or hazing allegations on athletic teams and other social organizations like the band. But, it appears that the most serious hazing occur, not in sororities, but in fraternities. I mean, I was in a sorority, I’m proud of my sorority affiliation. I would not say that I was hazed. I was, to this day, I keep in touch with my big sister in sorority. But the extreme drinking to the point of death, I only know about it in the fraternity context.
Dr. Wiese: Well and I would disagree because I think we just have to pull the lens back a little bit and we can look at, for instance, the Champion case at Florida Florida A and M. But again, that’s a marching band situation, right? Another serious hazing situation I believe was at the Ohio State. And so I tend, do we hear about it in fraternities? Absolutely. Absolutely we do. Are there high risk behaviors that happen there? Absolutely. Is that the only place where high risk behaviors occur? Absolutely not. And that’s when it becomes a part of, from my perspective as a former college administrator, whether fraternities exist or not, students are going to join groups, right? That’s what people do. People join groups. And my view of that fraternal world, that national fraternal world, nd that’s also an important distinction, is that they provide an educational arm that if fraternities did not exist or sororities, were missing part of that educational component and those students would be joining something else, perhaps recognized perhaps something entirely unrecognized.
And then let me also go to the national versus local distinction. When we hear about Greek life, it tends to be that we hear about, we tend to think about these organizations that are part of something that you see, you might see the same letters on multiple college campuses. That’s when something is a part of a national organization. And those national organizations are the ones that have those broad educational programs. Then there are local organizations. And when these stories hit the news, they don’t distinguish between local and national organizations. They just say fraternity. Local organizations are just that, they are a club. So my daughter, for example, at her college, they have a blend of local and national organizations. She chose the one national sorority of five on her campus. And so she, her sorority experiences come with that educational component. The other four are local clubs.
Kristina: Dr. Wiese, it’s interesting to hear you talk about some of your personal experience, your daughter in particular. So I’m curious, I’d like to hear, drawing not only from your professional experience as a vice president for student affairs and working in higher ed, but also as a professional consultant and really a parent. What advice can you provide to parents for the types of questions they should be asking when their children are exploring organizations to join? Like what do parents need to know and how can parents talk to their kids about what they should be asking?
Dr. Wiese: I appreciate you asking that question and I’ll share a story with you about the first time I know my daughter was hazed. It was at her summer camp when she was going from fourth grade to fifth grade. And she came home from summer camp and she was telling me all of these stories about how she was moving from being I, maybe it was five to six, but I think it was from being the fourth year of her camp to the fifth year in her camp. And to become a fifth year, she had to do a number of silly things. They were blindfolded, they had to run around, things like that. And at the time I was a vice president. I’m like, oh my gosh, she was hazed. Because that meets the legal definition of hazing, right? Doing something that where someone is saying, I want you to do this, to join this, and not something that they would otherwise do. And it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s dangerous or that. What happened to her at that summer camp was hazing. And that was the first time she and I had a conversation about hazing and how, and of course growing up with the work I was doing she was forced into a lot of conversations at a very young age.
Susan: I talk too much. And they always say to me, you only see when it goes wrong, mom. Stop.
Dr. Wiese: Well and I appreciate you saying that because 99, I don’t know the percentage, but for the vast majority of college students, vast majority people who attend summer camp, vast majority of people who are marching bands, they’re having an amazing experience, an absolutely amazing experience. And we have to remember that. And so then it goes back to Kristina, your point, that it’s having the conversations with our sons and daughters so that we understand what’s happening. So as much as we can and we are setting our expectations for how we want them to live their lives and those conversations matter, not only in that K-12 period, but when they go to college. Mounds of evidence that the parental influence in college matters.
And so to go back to your question, what should we as parents of college students be saying? We should know the organizations they are joining. We should be asking what’s going on in those organizations in a caring way. Because we all know as parents and said if we’re just going, what’s happening? What’s happening? That’s when they shut down, right? But we should be curious. We should, just like in high school, we want to know who their friends are. You should know who their friends are in college. Who are they hanging out with? From a fraternal perspective, is there alumni involvement in the chapter? And is that alumni, are those alumni 23 and 24 or those alumni 40, 35, 40? And I would argue that the 35, 40 matters, right? Because those are people who have said my fraternity experience was important enough to me that I want to see that you will have a good experience. 23, 24, those are kids still hanging around college, that’s different.
And so those are the types of things I think that you need to be as a parent thinking about in setting your expectations. So I’ll go back to my daughter’s summer camp experience. When she told me what happened at summer camp, we talked about the concept of rites of passage. Those aren’t the words I used, but we talked about those concepts and I also talked with her about how those things can go wrong and that she, as she got, as she became older, she had a responsibility to know the difference.
Susan: So let’s talk about the difference, because I also think that some rite of passages, like a Bar Mitzvah, are beautiful rites of passages. Or I remember attending Kristina’s daughter’s communion party. I mean, religious rites of passages are part of growing up. Same with joining a team and paying your dues and then finally being this senior. How do you educate younger children what’s fun rites of passage and just paying your dues versus hazing. Is it alcohol? Is that the differentiator or is it something that makes you nervous or scared? What’s the line?
Dr. Wiese: I think that’s an excellent question. Not one that I’m sure I can answer well. As a college administrator, as a former college administrator, as someone who works with these issues, I would have to say, it’s not okay, right? That’s what a college administrator will always say. There is no line, there’s nowhere that it’s okay. And the parallel I want to draw is to underage drinking. And I can think of a phone call I received one time from a parent who said to me, you know, Dean, that it is safer for a college student to drink in a controlled environment. And you know, they’re going to drink anyway. Why are you, Dean, the obstacle?
And my answer was, I’m not the obstacle, we have a law. And it’s not my law, this is state law. And so college administrators, fraternal administrators, they are bound by laws. And so they’re never going to say underage drinking is okay or hazing is okay. What they’re, what colleges and universities do, what fraternal organizations do is they try to offer alternatives to knowing that we’re in the middle of a really complex situation and that rites of passage occur. So I’ll start by that’s my huge disclaimer to say, I will never say it’s okay, right? And as a parent-
Susan: And neither will we by the way.
Dr. Wiese: Oh, I know, right?
Susan: Kristina and I would never say hazing goes okay. And we would never endorse, I’m actually, we are both hard line about underage drinking. We know it happens, but we always say bad things happen when you drink too much, period. The end.
Dr. Wiese: And I appreciate that qualifier. What I heard you say was bad things happen when you drink too much. Not, and I’m not critiquing what you said, I’m agreeing with what you said, not bad things happen when you drink, right? And I think in our society we’ve become kind of polarizing in how we talk about these things. So as a parent, I was never one to say, bad things happen when you drink. I was one to say, bad things happen when you drink too much, as it related to. And there are consequences, daughter, that you will face because even if your social drinking is not out of line, it still may be against law or it still may be against college policy. So you still may face some consequences.
Same thing when it goes to hazing, right? That what I’m, the kind of conversation I’m going to have that I would have, that I did have with my own daughter is hazing bad, hazing negative, hazing very hurt, could be very hurtful, can be very dangerous. If you were involved in anything like that, you can face some serious repercussions or others can. And that’s what’s-
Susan: I think we’re doing is we’re mixing our discussion. Hazing is not just a rite of passage,
Dr. Wiese: Correct.
Susan: With hazing there is coercion. With hazing there is potentially asking somebody to violate the law or school policy. With hazing there is pressure. A rite of passage is joy and love, support.
Dr. Wiese: Yeah. And while I can agree with you on that right now, we’re kind of getting into this anthropological discussion, right? The problem is rites of passage can still be considered hazing. And that’s why things can get so muddy going through college procedures, going through legal procedures.
Kristina: So I have a question. I’m a parent with my senior in high school. We’re doing college tours in the fall and my son or daughter, frankly, it doesn’t matter says, oh my gosh, I love this school, this feels like home, I want to go here. But I’m thinking, oh gosh, I read a couple articles in the newspaper last month. Do I really want my child going here? How can parents learn more about campus culture? What sort of, I don’t know, digging or investigation can parents do when their child is at the point of choosing where they’re going to go to college? Like how can parents become better educated to help their children make good choices?
Susan: Yeah, that’s a really insightful question.
Dr. Wiese: I think it’s a fabulous question. And really what I’d say is this really does come back to that, that relationship that parents have with their students in high school. What were their students’ behaviors like in high school? Who your student is, is who your student will most likely be when they go to college, right? And so was your student experimenting with drugs in high school? Guess what? They’re going to experiment with drugs or even accelerate that when they go to college-
Kristina: Susan and I say it all the time, you know your kid, they came to you and be honest, you know who your kid is.
Dr. Wiese: Right. And that goes, that’s why parental expectations are so, so important. And you all have worked on a number of cases and I’ve worked on a number of cases where we look back at those high school behaviors and then what unfolds in college. It tends to not be surprising that what was happening in high school accelerates in college. And I’ll give you an example of a story. I have a close friend, now an adult, and he was not planning on joining a fraternity. Very, very, very protective mom. He told me the story. Very protective mom. And her son was kind of a golden boy kind of thing, right? Great, great grand hopes for the son. And he went on to, he went on to college and wanted to join a fraternity. Mom, dead opposed. And mom ultimately had a discussion with the person who would be his big brother in the fraternity. And she confronted him and said, is my son going to drink in college? I don’t want him drinking. And his reply was, “Ma’am, will your son drink in college? Probably. Will I, as his big brother, have his back and make sure he’s safe? Yes, I will.” That is what every parent should be seeking and trusting your son or daughter enough to make the best decisions, the decisions you tell them, you expect them to make. If you don’t trust your son or a daughter to make good decisions in college, then they’re probably not ready to go to college.
Susan: Wow. That’s a really hard statement. I think that I tend to agree with you, but I also know situations of kids who never rebelled or didn’t drink in high school and they go to college and they do feel pressure and they succumb to that pressure. So I agree that we all need to be vigilant and guarding against hazing. I think that hopefully Collins’s Law will be a deterrent. But on the other hand, it always goes back to empowering our children while they are under our roof, to be able to be strong and to not pressure others.
Dr. Wiese: Absolutely.
Susan: We don’t talk about that enough. Do we have conversations to tell our kids, I don’t want you pressuring someone else?
Dr. Wiese: Yes.
Kristina: I just have one final question I have to ask, given that you have over to 20 years of experience working in higher ed. Susan and I, on almost a daily basis, are talking to parents who are at probably one of their lowest points. They have a child in crisis. And it’s this struggle of are things going to get better? Do I leave my child on campus? Or do I pull the plug and bring them home and risk having non-consecutive semesters in college? Or what’s it going to do to the transcripts? So on and so forth. Do you have any thoughts or advice for parents who are wrestling with, do I bring my kid home or things going to get better?
Dr. Wiese: I mean I would say all of these are kind of case by case situations, right? And Susan, I also appreciate your point that accidents still happen, right? People can do all the right things and accident still happen and those are tragic and horrific and we have to work through those. So, yes, I want to agree with you there. In terms of taking a student out of a difficult situation, I think it’s very much case by case, but I think at 20 years old, the idea of switching colleges seems like a horrific thing; it’s not. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not. I’ve worked with so many students and families in crisis. And if a student is having a horrible, a horrible situation on their campus and they can take a break and work a job and go back to that campus or go back, go to a different campus and start over, there’s nothing, there’s nothing. I mean, those kinds of things happen all the time. And so, I would say if you’re, I think very much case by case, but if you have a miserable student who’s just suffering through, there’s no reason for that, take a break or transfer. Students do it all the time.
Susan: It’s like the adult timeout.
Dr. Wiese: That’s right. That’s right.
Susan: It’s a privilege to be able to take a timeout. I was thinking about that as someone who’s an adult, we don’t get timeouts. This is the last chance that if you need to reorganize, take a deep breath, move home, someone else is paying your bills and maybe making your meals and you can regroup, nothing wrong with that.
Dr. Wiese: Right. And there’s more than one good college. And, I think we get so, so wrapped up in, oh, if I leave here, it’ll never be the same. I need to get back to where it was. Well, if you’re in a crisis situation, you’re never going to get back to where it was not, not exactly. And so if things aren’t going well, it’s okay to explore those options. If you think you can recover it? Awesome, you learn and you grow.
Kristina: Dr. Wiese, these were excellent, excellent thoughts and advice and just information you’ve shared today. We’re so pleased you were able to join us. And thanks to our listeners, we’re so glad you were able to join us today for Real Talk with Susan and Kristina. And if you enjoyed this episode, please do subscribe to our show so you don’t miss an episode. You can also follow us on Instagram, search for the handle ‘@stonesupler’. And there’s resources available online at studentdefense.kjk.com. Thank you so much for being part of our Real Talk community and see you next time.