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Hazing and Student Group Conduct

The Whittier College Student Code of Conduct applies to both individual students and student organizations. Leaders and members of student groups are encouraged to read and understand their obligations to the Code of Conduct as both individuals and as an organization.

This page provides information for both internal and external constituencies regarding the Whittier College policies on hazing within student groups, which includes all student organizations, Societies, and athletic teams. Members of the College community who witness or are a party to hazing behavior are strongly urged to complete a hazing reporting form.

Whittier College Hazing Policy

The College defines hazing as follows:
1.    Failure to act in a manner that reflects maturity and social responsibility with regards to health, wellness, and safety
a.    General hazing, defined as an act that endangers (puts at risk), the mental or physical health or safety of a student, or causes physical or psychological harm or social ostracism to any person within the College community, or destroys or removes public or private property, for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a group or organization. The express or implied consent of the alleged victim will not be a defense. Apathy or acquiescence in the presence of hazing are not neutral acts; they are violations of this rule.

This policy notably states that hazing is not just that which puts at risk the mental or physical health or safety of a student, but also that causes social ostracism within the community. Additionally, the policy makes clear that consent of the alleged victim(s) is not a defense, meaning that even if the students “want to participate” in the hazing behavior, it remains hazing and against the values of our College.

What is hazing?

Whittier College has adapted the nationally-held best practice of understanding hazing to fall within three categories: Subtle, Harassment, and Violent Hazing. These are defined below. 

  • Subtle Hazing: Behaviors that emphasize a power imbalance between new members and other members of the group or community. This is termed “subtle hazing” because these types of hazing are often taken for granted or accepted as “harmless” or meaningless. Subtle hazing typically involves activities or attitudes that breach reasonable standards of mutual respect and place new members on the receiving end of ridicule, embarrassment, and/or humiliation tactics. New members often feel the need to endure subtle hazing to feel like part of the group or community.
  • Harassment Hazing: Behaviors that cause emotional anguish or physical discomfort in order to feel like part of the group. Harassment hazing often confuses, frustrates, and causes undue stress for new members.
  • Violent Hazing: Behaviors that do or could cause physical or psychological harm.

Reporting Hazing

The College encourages members of the community to report any instances of perceived hazing by completing an online form (allows for anonymity if desired). All reports will be taken seriously and investigated in accordance with the policies outlined in this document and in the Student Code of Conduct. 

Hazing Investigations

The Hazing Prevention and Intervention Team (HPIT) will investigate all reports of hazing received through the form and through other means. Once a report is received, the HPIT will convene to discuss the reported information and determine next steps. Hazing investigations will take three main forms: those involving societies, those involving athletic teams, and those involving other clubs/organizations. All investigations will generally follow the same format, with slight alterations depending on the population/group involved.

1.    Incident/Report Review Meeting: Once the HPIT has had a chance to initially review the report(s) submitted, a group will be convened to discuss the format of the interview and investigation process, and to set logistical framework for the remainder of the investigation. This meeting will include all members of the HPIT as well as:
•    For society related cases: Director of Leadership Experience and Programs, Program Coordinator
•    For athletic cases: Director of Athletics, Associate Director of Athletics / SWA
•    For other group and organization cases: Director of Leadership Experience and Programs, Assistant Director of Leadership Experience and Programs

2.    Pre-interview action: Depending on the specific case, the HPIT in conjunction with other staff (specifically those overseeing the team, society, or group in question) may require actions be taken during the investigative process. These actions may include but are not limited to:
•    Immediate suspension of all new member activities
•    Suspension of the activities of the group (specified by the office/department overseeing recognition of the group)
•    Restriction of communication between group members
•    Restriction or suspension of meetings, practices, or other activities of the full group

3.    Interviews: Based on the strategy developed by the HPIT and the review meeting with stakeholders (societies, athletics, or other groups), interviews will be conducted with all members of the involved organization(s). Interviews will typically take place individually (one student at a time) with two staff members. All group members will be gathered together in one space, and a staff member will explain the interview process. Students will be called out of the room individually to meet with interviewers. Prior to the interviews, team/group members will be asked to complete a brief questionnaire regarding the alleged incident(s). This questionnaire will be completed in person once the group arrives to the interview space and will also be proctored by a staff member. Generally, the conversations will begin with the newest members (possible subjects of hazing behavior) and conclude with veteran/older group members. The HPIT will determine when to interview team/group leadership (i.e. captains, officers, etc) depending on the specifics of the case. Interviewers will take detailed notes and provide them to the HPIT at the conclusion of the interview process.

4.    Post-Interview Review Meeting: The same group that met originally to set the parameters of the investigation and interviews will convene again to discuss findings and explore next steps. At this point, additional student conduct action may apply as deemed necessary by the Office of the Dean of Students, and information gathered during interviews may be used to support conduct proceedings. Determination of recommended steps regarding the organization/group in question will be discussed and recommendations made the appropriate supervisory body/department.

Throughout the interview process, students are expected to be truthful and honest. Patterns of untruth or fabrication may result in student conduct charges. 

At the conclusion of the interview and investigation process, a determination will be made by the HPIT in conjunction with the department overseeing the group (LEAP, Athletics, etc). This determination may result in formal conduct charges being applied to the group or to individual members. The sanctions for hazing violations may include but are not limited to:
•    Educational or structural requirements for group members
•    Required additional oversight of group activities
•    Student conduct charges for individual members (this decision is made by the Office of the Dean of Students after reviewing the details of the investigation)
•    Official censure of the group and/or specific members
•    Requirement to host an anti-hazing program for members and/or the entire College community.
•    Restriction on the ability to accept new members
•    Temporary loss of group recognition (suspension for a specific period of time)
•    Permanent loss of group recognition

Final decision regarding the status of the group(s) involved generally rests with the department/office overseeing that group (LEAP for student organizations and societies, Athletics for varsity teams).

Note that this policy does not include specific sanction requirements or regulations imposed by other entities including departmental regulations, NCAA compliance standards, etc. Groups may be subject to additional investigation and sanctioning by these groups as deemed appropriate. 

Resources for Student Groups and Teams

adapted from University of La Verne, Step Up Hazing Prevention Program

How can we tell if an event is hazing or otherwise inappropriate? Ask yourself the following questions

  • How many would now consider a team/group activity, by definition, hazing?
  • How could you break a long-standing “tradition”? What activities could be introduced to start a new tradition and replace a questionable one?
  • How do hazing activities get passed on? Have you been hazed? If yes, do you think it means you are permitted to pass it on to the next class? Is there an expectation to participate?
  • How could the competitive or risk taking nature of being a college student impact a hazing situation (alcohol consumption, water chugging, high risk activities AFTER alcohol consumption)?
  • Does your team/group have a unique culture? If yes, what is it? How does hazing fit into that

Team building/initiation “type” activities can be a good thing and very beneficial. They should be serious and challenging, help the person find an identity in a group of other students and give them a sense of belonging. These types of activities, however, are different from hazing in very fundamental ways. Without careful consideration, they can too often degenerate into hazing where they humiliate, embarrass, degrade or endanger people. 

Ask yourself

  • Is there secrecy around the activity?
  • Is there pressure to participate?
  • Is a specific group or individual singled out?
  • Do members justify it as being a “tradition”?
  • Does this activity promote and conform to the ideals and values of the team/group/college?
  • Will this activity increase long term feelings of friendship between new and initiated members of the team/group?
  • Take the perspective of your parents – would they be proud? Your coach or advisor? Your professors? The College President?
  • Would you be willing to defend the merit of this activity in a court of law?
  • Does the activity meet both the spirit and letter of the standards prohibiting hazing?

How Hazing Is Justified
Moral Disengagement (Bandura, 2002): Gradual disengagement of moral self-sanction.
Behavior normally viewed as immoral, even reprehensible, over time becomes more benign, acceptable or worthy in a particular social setting through cognitive restructuring.

Action Steps

  • Define up front what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
  • Ensure the activity that is planned could not be considered, by definition, hazing.
  • Don’t let others justify hazing as “tradition”.
  • BREAK THE SILENCE and voice your opinion.
  • Choose to not participate.
  • Speak with fellow members of your group and the group leadership about your concerns.
  • Talk to an administrator/coach/advisor, etc.
  • Come up with new activities that promote team/group bonding without any risk of it being considered hazing.
  • Get those involved to stop and think about the people they are hazing (perspective taking). Is there any chance hazing could trigger something in terms of personal/ emotional challenges they have had to face in their life?

Additional Resources

Contact the Whittier College Hazing Prevention and Intervention Team by emailing the Siobhan Skeritt, Director, Student Rights and Responsibilities.