We at the Record commend College Council (CC) for considering a new method for assessing student group behavior. The proposed CC bylaw change allows CC to punish or suspend student groups that deviate from acceptable student conduct – a change that we see as positive, especially in light of recent issues that involve student groups hazing underclassmen.
This bylaw change will codify how student actions are judged by peers, making it clear when situations are to be handled by the administration and when they will be considered by CC and the ad-hoc Student Organizations Sanctions Committee (SOSC). We applaud the idea of involving students in these decisions, since these incidents directly affect social life at the College. In certain situations, students may have a fuller understanding of the nuanced issues surrounding what constitutes acceptable team bonding than an administrator might. We hope that a change in how the College addresses questions of potential hazing incidents will transform the current culture surrounding how underclassmen are socialized into groups.
Further, we hope that these changes will deter future inappropriate conduct among student groups. This bylaw makes it clear that we, as the student body, are aware of the negative consequences these actions have on College culture as a whole.
However, given that this is merely a change in CC’s bylaws, the SOSC will only have the capacity to oversee groups that fall under CC’s purview, which excludes certain teams and student groups that are integral to the campus culture. For example, CC will not retain the power to disband a varsity sport or The Williams Record if a code of conduct violation is committed. This lack of a universal organization that makes decisions about punishing groups may lead to a double standard.
We believe it is unfair that all student groups are not judged in the same manner. It is unclear whether similar punishments are currently being applied to similar violations of conduct committed by different student groups. For instance, there is no assurance that hazing on a varsity athletic team would be treated the same way by the athletics department as hazing on a student club would be treated by CC.
While the censure of CC groups for hazing may be treated in a public manner, the current method of censuring athletic groups is much less transparent. While we may not have complete transparency, the current plan is to judge various groups on separate terms and hope that the treatment of violations is ultimately equal. However, because of the separate oversight of athletic teams and CC, this oversight is undoubtedly handled with different levels of transparency, publicity and severity.
We believe that this calls for an overarching committee – which could operate similarly to the Honor Committee – composed of students and administrators that are given the responsibility of judging hazing violations for all student associations. The committee could be made of elected students specially trained to think critically about hazing. We believe that an elected group of students might be more valuable than allowing this power to rest separately with CC and with other oversight organizations like the athletics department. In particular, members of CC may not be effectively trained to deal with such issues as the differences between group hazing and socialization. Further, when students elect CC members they do not necessarily vote with the specific consideration of whether they feel a particular representative could appropriately judge issues of hazing and student group conduct. This seems out of the realm of typical responsibilities entrusted to CC members.
Further, assessing group behavior brings up serious issues of accountability. It is frequently unclear when the entire group should be held accountable and when only a few members are at fault. These issues are highly sensitive and personal. A special committee elected for the sole purpose of dealing with these violations could meet behind closed doors and respect the privacy of those involved. If they determine that an individual group member should be held accountable, the committee could then refer the issue to the administration, who would already have been intimately involved in the committee’s decisions until that point.
We believe that CC’s bylaw change and commitment to preventing hazing is a fantastic opportunity for the College to assess how it regulates student groups more broadly. An elected group of students that works closely with the administration to determine when violations have been committed and what repercussions are appropriate seems like a more effective method of streamlining how we at the College regulate behavior. By addressing these issues in a transparent manner, we are more likely to create a culture in which groups know what behavior constitutes enjoyable group bonding and what it is unacceptable and destructive to the campus community.