Kansas University continues to refine its policies toward hazing after the issue flared up twice this academic year.
KU placed its chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity on a two-year probation after an investigation revealed hazing occurred at the fraternity’s annual island party in September. At that party, KU freshman Matt Fritzie was left paralyzed after diving into a makeshift pool.
The university is also mulling sanctions for its Interfraternity Council, a student leadership group whose mission includes promoting the greek community. Members of that group were found to have committed hazing violations relating to paddling one another.
While the university community deals with these incidents, they’ll also be looking at hazing in a new way.
Moving forward, all hazing cases will be handled by KU’s new student conduct officer, Nick Kehrwald. He’s been on the job only a couple of weeks since coming to KU from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he held a similar position.
Hazing investigations had previously been conducted by assistant vice provosts in the office of the vice provost for student success.
Kehrwald, who has a law degree, said students should notice a more proactive approach. Having a full-time staffer devoted to all kinds of non-academic misconduct will allow for more outreach and educational opportunities, he said.
Jane Tuttle, assistant vice provost for student success, said hazing investigations shouldn’t be about pointing fingers, but instead should focus on getting everyone to be part of the solution.
“I don’t think that KU’s any different than any other school,” she said. “But I think that there’s work to be done.”
Another option, if the issue persists, could be more intensive educational programs, or bringing in a consultant to do an audit to determine how much hazing is actually occurring here, she said.
An anti-hazing task force has also convened at KU, and met twice so far, said Aaron Dollinger, chief of staff for KU’s student senate. He serves on the task force.
“We’ve clearly had some issues on campus this year that are not OK,” he said. “People need to be held accountable for that.”
The task force is looking for ways to make reporting hazing easier, he said. The university’s general counsel is helping to look for ways to keep accusers’ identities secret while ensuring that the accused perpetrators defend themselves and have a fair due process.
One way that can be accomplished, Kehrwald said, is by ensuring that investigations are conducted in a specific way. Speed is key, so members of a group don’t have time to concoct a phony story and get their details all straight.
Anonymity can be protected by conducting interviews concurrently, and to ensure to interview as many people as possible so the accuser isn’t singled out, Kehrwald said.
Now that he’s on board, he’ll visit a variety of groups — even outside the greek system. Hazing can occur wherever groups exist, he said — in athletics, in fraternities and even in the band.
Dollinger said the task force on which he serves and the university at large are trying to foster a culture where people first understand what is and isn’t hazing, and then feel comfortable about reporting it.
“It’s not brotherhood when someone hits you with a paddle, and it’s not brotherhood when someone forces you to drink,” he said. “And it’s OK to come forward when these things happen.”