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Mark yor calendar: NCAA plans to address hazing issue next January 10

Convention summit sharpens hazing focus

July 16, 2007
By Jack Copeland
The NCAA New

A Hazing Prevention Summit plan­ned for the 2008 NCAA Convention promises an opportunity for athletics administrators to convert concerns about student-athlete well-being into action, and to share ownership of a problem confronting all of higher education.

The half-day summit will be staged January 10 in Nashville, Tennessee. Organizers will use the event to present recent research about hazing, suggest prevention strategies, and describe useful resources for developing policies and programs on campuses.

It also will offer a forum for sharing ideas — not only for the administrators who typically attend the Convention, but also for coaches, student-athletes and university administrators who are looking for effective ways to change a campus culture that encourages hazing.

“It’s going to raise the level of awareness of the issue and provide people resources — and I hope also compel them to be active on the topic,” said Chuck Mitrano, commissioner of the Empire 8 athletics conference, who will serve as moderator for the event.

“We hope institutions will engage their student-athletes in more and consistent education, and that student-athletes will come up with their own team-building and positive alternatives to hazing,” he said. “We want that to become the culture and the tradition institutions adopt, in place of things that have existed over time.”

In fact, the summit’s theme is “A Commitment to Action,” and the scheduling of the event marks the NCAA’s most noteworthy effort yet to focus its membership’s attention on the issue.

“The purpose of the summit is to respond to a need,” said Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of education outreach. “We know many of our institutions are responding to the issue, and this summit will help bring all of that together, so we’ll have a model of what can be done and what institutions should be doing.”

Wilfert said hazing is a growing area of concern in higher education and recently has been addressed by such organizations as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the North American Interfraternal Foundation.

The summit, along with a hazing prevention handbook that will be published later this year by the NCAA, represent the Association’s latest efforts to join those organizations in addressing hazing on campuses.

The handbook’s purpose is to define hazing and describe the types of activities that constitute hazing; define the roles of administrators, coaches and student-athletes in preventing hazing; and establish an understanding of why students participate in hazing.

It also will serve as a resource for creating preventive educational programs and for enhancing team bonding and leadership as positive experiences.

The Hazing Prevention Summit has the same goals, according to Mitrano. It seeks to provide useful information and ideas, while serving as a spark for action.

“As athletics administrators, the biggest thing we look for as attendees at conventions and workshops is something we can put to use on campus,” Mitrano said. “That will prove to be the most beneficial part of the summit — looking at what some other institutions have done, and hearing directly from student-athletes and coaches. Those types of things are what really are going to make a difference at the end of the day — people hearing how they can use this information practically on campus.”
Sharing alternatives

The summit will open with presentations of recent research on hazing, including a report by University of Maine, Orono, professor Elizabeth Allan of a current national survey designed to investigate the nature and prevalence of hazing practices across a range of student groups — including student-athletes.

Another summit discussion seeks to define hazing and will include perspectives from coaches and student-athletes, as well as female, African-American and sport-specific views. The session will feature Tim Marchell, director of mental health initiatives at Cornell University.

“We had (Marchell) speak at an Empire 8 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meeting, and after you see his session, it will be clear what is and what is not hazing, and what is and what is not acceptable,” Mitrano said. “He makes it clear to the audience exactly what hazing is, and offers some alternatives to it.”

Summit attendees then will learn about institutions’ efforts in the areas of hazing education and intervention, and will have an opportunity to share their own experiences and lessons from understanding and dealing with hazing on their own campuses.

“We’re going to have a session specifically for attendees to speak with one another about their experiences — what’s worked for them and what hasn’t, what they see as challenges — and to try to learn from one another,” Mitrano said.

Ultimately, the summit also will offer the NCAA membership an opportunity to set a course for addressing hazing issues, Wilfert said.

“We’d like to see a couple of things happen,” she said. “We want institutions to write a policy. We’ll provide an outline of things administrators can do throughout the year to address the issue and bring it out into the open.

“We also want to ask attendees to either endorse what we’re doing or give us a charge, which is why we’ve attached this to the Convention.”

Administrators interested in attending the summit can register for it when they register for the Convention beginning September 10.

Mitrano also hopes to attract senior institutional personnel such as presidents and specialists from areas like campus health services and student affairs to interact during the summit with athletics administrators, coaches and student-athletes.
“The more broad-based the participation, the better, because we can learn from other areas of our campuses,” he said.

At best, the summit will lay out a course of action for the NCAA and its membership to join in the broader effort across higher education to address hazing issues.
At least, the summit will help shine a light on hazing and bring the issue more into the open.

“There needs to be a raised level of awareness,” Mitrano said. “In our day-to-day lives in athletics, sometimes these types of issues are not right in front of us. Unfortunately, this is a significant student-athlete well-being issue that just has not gotten the attention it deserves, in terms of education.”

Wilfert suggested that just paying attention to the issue will go a long way toward changing the culture that permits hazing to occur on campuses and among student-athletes.

“We know that hazing thrives in secrecy, so we need to start talking about it,” she said

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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