One of the lingering critiques of my research on BGLOs is that I don’t provide solutions to the problems they face. This usually comes from those who don’t read my research but rather my blog posts, tweets, and Facebook commentary. Even still, assume I’m a physician, and a patient came to me for a check-up. I tell them that they are likely to die prematurely, because they’re morbidly obese from lack of exercise and excessive daily caloric intake. Some such patients would ask: “What should I do to stop being morbidly obese?” My answer: “Diet and exercise”; the answer is built into the diagnosis I give. But some patients want more. They ask: “What kind of diet should I use?” “What’s the best work-out regimen?” “What if I lack will-power?” Maybe I should answer these questions, or maybe the patient also needs a nutritionist, personal trainer, and psycho-therapist. With that said, let me give some concrete advice on how BGLOs could and should address hazing, in no particular order save the first one:
Each BGLO needs to come to grips with what it’s or wants to be—its organizational identity. Each needs to do some soul-searching. Dr. Stefan Bradley and I edited an entire book on this topic with regard to Alpha Phi Alpha, which has implications for the other members of the NPHC. Everything these BGLOs do should revolve around their organizational identity. This includes, and is especially the case for, how they identify, recruit (tacitly or explicitly), train, initiate, and retrain members. Honestly, membership is the most important issue within BGLOs; without them the work of the organization cannot get done.
The critical question within BGLOs is really about leadership. And I don’t mean the kind that can investigate hazing allegations, host a good conference/convention, give a good speech, whoop like a Baptist preacher, recite “If” and “Invictus”, provide great hospitality suites at gatherings…but who can transform these organizations. Leadership, especially at the national level have to provide a clear roadmap and vision to addressing hazing by all reasonable means; and membership have to elect that leadership into position. To date, BGLOs have not had that. The proof is in the pudding. That’s not to say that the current and past leaders are incompetent; they just haven’t solved the problem, and I doubt they gave their best efforts. This is a chicken and egg problem: when will such individuals offer themselves’ up for service, and can members recognize them for the value they bring and elect them? I don’t know; I’m not confident on these points.
From my observation, BGLOs are organizations of “no.” They are conservative, and when new ideas and modes of thinking come to the fore, membership and leadership resist them. With regard to hazing within BGLOs, the old approaches clearly have not worked. Therefore, a new type of leadership has to be receptive to and able to find ways to cut through organizational politics, and the like, in order to implement new and novel ideas around solving the BGLO hazing problem.
The best place to start with bringing in members who exemplify any of these organizations’ ideals is mentoring; I mean from K-12. Being big brothers or big sisters is likely to create the best possible pipeline to membership, because then boys and girls get exposure to these organizations and their ideals early. Once these kids hit college, much of the training about what it takes to be a BGLO member could and should already be done.
Litigation-wise, BGLOs are at a disadvantage. Litigation is largely run by insurance carriers who give the insured a panel of lawyers in the state where litigation is pending. The inured-BGLO then picks from among these lawyers, most of whom probably know little about BGLOs. These organizations, under such circumstances, should request that local counsel associate with some other, outside of panel, attorney who is a BGLO member or firm with a BGLO member on the litigation team. That isn’t to say that BGLO members will have the ideal body of knowledge to litigate the case effectively, but some knowledge is better than none. These organizations should always use expert witnesses if they can. The narrative about BGLO hazing is easily articulated in a language that would make a jury sympathetic to a plaintiff. The only real balance that can come is if there is an expert to better contextualize the issue. Depending on the law in the jurisdiction, the facts of the case, and depending on whether a BGLO litigating a case hires a competent expert, they should consider not settling in order to build more favorable case law to their assertions. Also, BGLOs lack any real perspective on the legal strategies used against them, the law across jurisdictions, the strength and weakness in claims, etc… This is because they don’t analyze prior litigation in any systematic way. As such, they should confer—the 9 of them—about what cases they have had over the past several decades. They should gather all case names from their insurers and all case files from the relevant courts and then create an analysis of these cases in the aggregate. Yes, this will cost some money but less money than hazing settlements and deductibles.
Also, in the context of litigation, when BGLOs are sued, they have to pay their insurer a deductible—e.g., a $25,000. How do these organizations recoup that money? They don’t, but they should sue the members who caused the litigation in order to recoup the deductible. Also, if a BGLO settles a case or loses it and has to pay damages, they should sue the members whose conduct resulted in the verdict and damages. That could help send a clear message to violators.
Leadership within BGLOs need a better understanding of hazing issues and law. They should regularly attend the handful of conferences on the topic. Also, there is a growing and robust body of literature available on the topic; folks need to start reading.
Leadership have to be held to a high standard in BGLOs. Their behavior should be a model for rank-and-file members. In recent years, at least half of BGLOs have had embezzlement issues involving their national leadership. It’s unreasonable to expect a 19-22 year-old to obey the law when a 40, 50, 60 year-old man or woman won’t. Leadership have to be held accountable. If they steal; they have to be removed from office and the organization, and possibly prosecuted; this is especially so if the same would be done to undergrads. It gives leadership a higher moral ground when going after college chapter hazing; it’s also an attack on an organizational culture that flouts organizational rule sand the law of the land.
Two important data points: One is that a good predictor of whether or not BGLO members will haze is the extent to which they are actually aware of the consequences of hazing. These organizations believe that they are making the case, but they’re not. Think about this: if I tell you once a year, “smoking causes cancer and can kill you,” would you stop smoking, especially if you’re addicted to nicotine? If, on a weekly basis, I say the same thing to you but show you images of people who died from lung cancer and what nicotine did to their lungs, and I constantly bombard you with data about the harms of smoking, would you stop or at least try to stop? Better question: which approach is likely to cause smoking cessation, the former or the latter? The problem is that BGLOs lack a command of the facts and therefore a command of the narrative. They don’t chronicle the major hazing incidents that result in personal harm and litigation. As such, they have little to talk about other than abstracts about what hazing is doing. What’s problematic is that this information is not hard to come by. These organizations can get much of it via the means mentioned above. They can also search legal and news databases. This could be expensive; if only these organizations had members on college campuses who could gather such information for free from university library databases (yes, I’m being snarky). Once they have compiled the information, they could disseminate the information to aspirants, incorporate it into risk management training, etc… The other point is that hazing is most violent in black fraternities. Part of this likely has to do with how manhood and masculinity are defined among black men, including black fraternity members. Part of this also shades into the third rail of black fraternity life—homosexual membership. These organizations’ ability to grapple with and discuss this issue is a must; but it will take leadership at every level to tackle it.
The ironic thing about BGLOs is that given the nature of alumni membership, these organizations have considerable intellectual capital to solve their own problems. I personally know experts in a variety of disciplines who are active BGLO members who have pieces to the puzzle for solving the problem of hazing. These members go to chapter meeting, sell tickets to their chapters’ annual balls, do service projects, but they don’t offer up solutions to major issues their respective organizations face, because their organizations are not interested. And I don’t mean that leadership should say, basically, come help if you want. Leaders have to urge, nudge, beg if needed, these people to lend their insights. Heck, if need be, pay them. For instance, most of the experts I know are professors, but they probably cannot put ample time toward drafting a white paper on hazing, especially if they are pre-tenured, but they might be able to do so if they had a research assistant or two or three. These organizations should invest in such.
Black Greek-letter organizations need alternative revenue streams. This is largely so that they can halt Intake when needed to make adjustments and not worry about the financial hit they will take. This is so because most of these organizations live and die on Intake fees. The problem is that as 501(c)(7) organizations, they must rely substantially on membership dues/fees. And with the high attrition of members once they graduate from college—ie., the lack of financially active members—these organizations are in a bind. They should consult with an organizational behavior (“OB”) expert about what it takes to get organizational members to be committed to their, respective, organization.
These organizations need an alternative process that members can buy into and that helps gather and prepare the kind of members they need. To reduce liability, they could have a protracted on-line course, at the beginning of the process. Part of what should be taught is the history and culture of BGLOs, generally, and the history of the specific BGLO they’re joining. Aspiring members should also be taught about the contemporary issues BGLOs face, especially a robust education on hazing. They should have to earn some minimal score to advance to the next stage or to various iterations of the tests. Some, maybe many, aspirants will not be motivated to read and do the best they can. As such, incentivize the learning. Give them a certain rebate for not simply getting the minimum score but for getting much better scores. So, if a 90 out of a score of 100 is needed to pass, a 91-95 gets them a rebate of $50. A score of better than 95 gets them a rebate of $100. Once they finish the series of exam, they are basically knowledgeable about BGLOs. Then the bonding activities and additional activities can take place over the next several weeks and even after Intake.
These are my quick thoughts, the ones I could get down in 45 minutes before I leave the office. There is more to come in forthcoming scholarly journal articles and books.