In move toward transparency, GW to disclose student groups’ disciplinary violations

Updated: March 3, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.

Student organizations hit with violations such as hazing or underage drinking will have disciplinary records posted on a University website as early as this spring, the head of the student life office said Friday.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the website will outline all violations and penalties against GW’s nearly 500 student organizations, a major move toward transparency for officials who have mostly declined to discuss groups’ disciplinary records in the past.

The move also follows a string of hazing accusations last fall, which resulted in one fraternity kicked off campus and one sorority moved out of GW housing.

Konwerski said the system is not meant to “blackball” campus organizations, but to help students decide which groups to join. He added that the idea for the website stemmed from efforts to prevent hazing, but that the system wouldn’t single out Greek life, which attracts the most public scrutiny but comprises only about half of the reported hazing cases.

“We want it to be somewhat educational or [prevention-oriented] so people have an awareness of what activities have happened with an organization, and as a result, it might inform their decision of joining that organization,” Konwerski said.

Student leaders, including Greek presidents, also said they hoped the website would squash rumors about which organizations were in trouble. Many are waiting to hear how much information will be online and how long it will be public.

Jeff Liskov, president of Lambda Chi Alpha, said it would also motivate Greek chapters to “curb behavior” because the consequences could go public.

He added that the website would “end most of the speculation surrounding disciplinary actions and pending cases because the posts on the database will be facts, not rumors.”

Sigma Nu president Tim Stackhouse said students “should have the right to know what the history and culture of an organization is truly like before deciding to join.”

“If the focus of this website remains as a source of information and does not become another way to highlight an organization’s mistakes, the GW community will greatly benefit from this,” Stackhouse said.

In past years, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities has released minimal information when Greek chapters are found guilty of hazing or underage drinking. Tim Miller, director of the Center for Student Engagement, has said GW hazing cases range from forced drinking to requiring members to only communicate with fellow members for days.

The University has not yet decided how long information about a sanction would be available or how much detail about an incident the page would include, Konwerski said. Records could remain online for as long as a sanction, such as social probation, are in effect, or for four years so each new incoming class sees the information, he said.

But group leaders have not yet come to a consensus on the merits the plans, Student Association president Julia Susuni said after meeting with Konwerski, Miller and leaders of both the Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council.

“All the students that walked away from the conversation felt like maybe every single thing that we had talked about wasn’t going to work out the way we had hoped,” Susuni said. “But we felt like they had really made it clear that they would take every single thought or comment into consideration when coming up with the final product.”

IFC President Peyton Zere said Greek life leaders acknowledged that recruitment numbers could take a hit if the information becomes publicly available.

“However, one of the pros will be the opportunity for new members to make better educated decisions during recruitment based on chapter judicial records,” Zere said.

CSE director Tim Miller said the University would continue to seek feedback from the IFC, the Panhellenic Association, the Club Sports Council, the Student Association, the Student Theatre Council, Allied in Pride, the Residence Hall Association and other groups. He added that the site “would address all student organizations equally, no matter what the violation was.”

Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine and Associate Director of the Office of Civility and Community Standards Katie Porras did not return requests for comment about what information would be shared publicly.

Omeed Firouzi, an SA senator and president of College Democrats, said some have argued that the system could mischaracterize organizations that have received sanctions but whose leaders have left the group or graduated. But Firouzi said he thinks past violations can reflect an organization’s culture.

“It’s kind of like a background check, in a way,” Firouzi said about the website. “Student orgs are held accountable, and they have to work to regain the trust of their members and the University community.”

Beta Theta Pi president Matt Zahn said students have voiced concerns over how far back the record of violations would extend. He wants the University to look back two years, which is the same length of time the Interfraternity Council uses when recommending sanctions for chapters that have violated the student code.

Greek life director Christina Witkowicki, who has declined interviews with The Hatchet, first told chapter presidents about the plan last semester.

Two Greek chapters were slapped with hazing violations last month, with Alpha Epsilon Pi losing its charter and Sigma Delta Tau losing its townhouse.

– Mary Ellen McIntire and Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.

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