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Keep Your College Student Safe In Campus Organizations

You have done the college drop-off. You have cried, worried, or maybe celebrated. Classes have begun. Hopefully, your child has joined an organization (e.g., fraternity, sorority, band, sports team, club, etc.), and the organizational joining process is happening, which includes meetings, financial commitments, and doing the challenging work of connection and making friends. If so, I want to tell you how to keep your college student safe in campus organizations, fraternities, and sororities. As a parent, your job is to protect the safety and well-being of your child. 

I have worked in higher education for three decades in various capacities. Today, I have the opportunity to speak to college students, and there are two things I say on the stage every single time. For organizations to be valuable, the foundation must have two components: 

  1. Good relationships. Harvard University has completed an 85-year study on what makes a good life. Since 1934, Harvard has studied the lives of 724 men and brought in spouses, partners, and children to the study. This is the longest study ever done, and the research can be condensed into one sentence: Positive relationships keep us happier, and healthier, and help us live longer.
  2. Safety. Over the past decade, I have had many parents reach out to me regarding safety concerns (e.g., their child has ended up in the hospital, required and unsafe driving shifts, forced or encouraged alcohol use, required time that gets in the way of sleep and going to class, etc.). I am always struck by these calls because I am always unsure why they call me.  My advice is always the same… to make a report. In this complex conversation I will have with parents, the idea of reporting is always met with excuses. Until your child feels safe in the organization, they will never have a good relationship with the members.

Parents can either be part of the problem or part of the solution! 

I was in a college town last week and casually chatting with a father who was dropping his son off for his freshman year. This father was a proud fraternity man, and we discussed his experience. He casually mentioned he wished the process had components similar to the Navy Seal training. Navy Seal training??? For the record, it is extremely difficult to become a Navy Seal. For every 1000 people who start this training, only 200 to 250 succeed. If you believe your child should be a Navy Seal, encourage them to join the Navy, but a student organization on a college campus should not be creating this process. It’s just insane to me that this thinking exists. 

If you have normalized hazing as “OK,” or something that has already happened to your child in middle or high school or something you experienced and you believe it helped you, I need you to pause and unnormalize this. We need parents to be on the team that your child deserves good relationships and safety in their experience. 

Kathleen Wiant lost her son to hazing, and she is on a mission – with many other parents to eradicate hazing. Take a listen to this brilliant, brave, strong mom: Kathleen Wiant: The Dangers of Hazing and Bullying | TED Talk

Know the research. 

Some of the biggest champions I work with include the Hazing Prevention Network and the Piazza Center, whose mission is to make stronger and safer organizations. I welcome you to learn more about this topic from research and from partners who are trying to reduce hazing. 

Parents need to help STOP hazing. You can disrupt this quietly, or you can do this loudly. 

  1. Many universities and fraternal organizations list “unrecognized” organizations and/or conduct logs on their website. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call to ask your questions. 
  2. Keep talking to your child about this topic. Your voice matters, and you being the voice in their ear that no one should bring harm to them is what they need to hear. If they suggest it’s time to leave an organization, SUPPORT THEM. 
  3. Know your state’s Anti-Hazing Law and understand why the legislation exists. 
  1. Report hazing. 
  • Call 911 if you believe someone is in danger. 
  • Report to the institution or organization. The more details you can provide, the stronger the investigation. Many universities/colleges, sororities, and fraternities have online reporting options. At the university/college, you always call Campus Police, the Dean of Students, etc. 
  • For hazing specific to fraternities and sororities, Fraternal Law provides an anonymous telephone line for anyone to report a suspected or recent hazing incident to 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293) that accepts calls 24 hours a day. 

And if you ever get confused about your role as a parent, please know safety is everyone’s job. It’s critical to keep your college student safe in campus organizations!

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