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College confronts hazing, shapes policy moving forward

January 18 2018
The Board of Trustees Anti-Hazing Task Force has completed its review of hazing at Wheaton and has developed recommendations to prevent hazing in the future. President Ryken commissioned the Task Force in the summer of 2017 because he believed “it was critical, particularly with an ongoing law enforcement investigation into the 2016 incident, that the college examine areas where we could improve the effectiveness of our policies, practices and training, in order to foster and support a thriving community life.
Trustee Steven Preston, Chair of the Board of Trustees Anti-Hazing Task Force, told the Record that the review and recommendations are meant to be forward-looking. He sees this as an opportunity for greater communication and unity on Wheaton’s campus.
As a part of the review of Wheaton’s current policies, Task Force members collected reactions and opinions from faculty and students. After hosting an open forum for students in September, Student Government compiled a 40-page document of student opinions, which the Task Force took into account while writing their recommendations. The Task Force also received a list of suggestions from the Intercollegiate Athletic Committee and Faculty Council, which they considered during the process. Associate Professor of Education Jonathan Eckert was asked to join the Task Force to provide a faculty perspective during the writing process.
After completing their review, the Task Force issued a set of recommendations. Among them was a commitment to improve communication with the college community. Although the college is bound by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Task Force acknowledged the community’s desire for more information about the investigation and disciplinary processes, and the administration is committed to increasing awareness about these processes. Other recommendations included establishing clearer policies around what defines hazing and delineating several categories of hazing based on severity. Trustee Jeanette Hsieh shared with the Record that the current definition of hazing is, “not as clear as we thought it should be.” The Task Force also recommended instituting a process for approving team-building traditions, clarifying the reporting process, broadening anti-hazing training and prohibiting any student charged with a felony from participating in extracurricular activities or, depending on the discretion of the administration, certain on-campus jobs.
Preston told the Record that although some news coverage of the 2016 football hazing incident indicated that the football team had attempted to cover up the incident, the review found that football team members almost immediately reported their teammates’ conduct to their coaches. The coaches reported the conduct to administrators, who then launched an investigation.
Preston also emphasized the importance of objectivity to the Task Force throughout the entire process. The Task Force has hired Gray Plant Mooty, a full-service law firm located in Minnesota, to update the hazing and student conduct policies to include the recommendations made. It has also asked the administration to utilize outside resources to implement training for students and employees involved in student groups, and teams in anti-hazing and bystander intervention.
In addition, Student Government and Student Development will work together to create campus-wide initiatives that build relationships between student groups. Student Body President Binny Sou told the Record, “I think this gave us the awareness that things like this can happen on Wheaton’s campus. We have a perception of our campus, that we are immune to such activities as this, that ‘I myself am immune to activities such as this.’ So just because I am a Wheaton college student does not mean that whatever I do is not hazing.” Sou also mentioned the role of the community covenant as a guiding document that could speak to how Wheaton welcomes newcomers to campus.
The Task Force also desires that faculty take a more active role in promoting a positive campus culture, and the Faculty Council has initiated discussions about reshaping the Intercollegiate Athletics Subcommittee into a Student Life Subcommittee that will comprise both faculty and staff. Eckert told the Record that ““faculty contribute to conversations about life on campus because of the discussions that on in class, the topics that come up informally outside of class, the way we think about how live as Christians in an intellectual, spiritual community of human beings,” and can therefore “be catalysts for those conversations … if we can help give space for people to talk about ideas and bring research to analyze the issues going on on campus … [then] faculty can build some bridges on campus.”
In an email, President Ryken told the Record, “From everything I have been able to observe, the Task Force has done thorough, thoughtful work that will serve our campus well going forward.”
There will be two forums on Monday Jan. 22. Ryken, Preston, Heth, Eckert and Sou will give opening statements and open the floor for questions in Coray Gym.

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