Staff Editorial: Sanctions website misses opportunity to serve students

Updated: Sept. 15, 2014 at 4:03 p.m.

This week, more students will become new members of student organizations than at any other time of the year, as Greek life wraps up rush and recruitment.

Thousands of students spent their weekend absorbing everything they could about these groups to find the one that best suits them.

But if they wanted comprehensive, searchable information about those organizations’ disciplinary records, they’d be at a bit of a loss.

In March, GW announced plans to roll out a website detailing the disciplinary records of any student organization that had violated the Code of Student Conduct. After most students had left campus for summer break, the Center for Student Engagement uploaded a PDF file listing violations and subsequent sanctions since last October.

It was disappointing on a number of counts – not the least of which was its low-tech presentation. Both students and the University need to turn their attention to the sloppy rollout of what could have been a useful tool.

Mainly, we’re concerned about the lack of follow through on a project that had such promise. Administrators assured us it would be a step toward making an unseen disciplinary process more transparent. Instead, the vague descriptions on the website create more questions than clarity.

Hazing, for example, is labeled just that, “hazing,” with no other details. Even Greek leaders, whose organizations make up the entirety of the list, told The Hatchet last week that they’re concerned the lack of context will make new students assume the worst.

Officials told incoming freshmen about the website at Colonial Inauguration in the hopes that it would help them decide which student groups to join – or avoid. We were expecting GW to publicize this website, but it turns out the University doesn’t plan to do that at all.

Tim Miller, the director of the CSE, told The Hatchet that he never intended to “plaster [the list] around campus.” This blunt dismissal is disappointing to hear. Miller hopes the list will act as a deterrent to future misconduct, but we can’t know whether the website will prevent people from hazing or violating alcohol or drug policies. Its more essential function should be providing information to students before they consider joining an organization.

The University did not give the sanctions website a memorable name (or a name at all), and it’s not accessible because it’s buried deep in the CSE’s website – you can’t find it unless you know exactly where to look. A freshman who has only been on campus two weeks shouldn’t have to dig through GW’s websites or depend on hearsay to find out the possible risks of joining a certain organization.

It’s the responsibility of the University, specifically the CSE, to promote this website. Why talk up an attempt to increase transparency only to let the community forget it exists?

In contrast to GW, take a look at Cornell University. Cornell has a detailed list of hazing incidents on campus going back to fall 2004, and for each case, the school includes a description of what happened based on reports from eyewitnesses, as well as the steps the university took against the group and what it will do to help the victims.

At Cornell, where a quarter of women are members of a sorority and little less than a quarter of men are members of a fraternity, officials have a Sunshine Policy that guarantees “misconduct that exhibits hazing and/or a threat or disregard for students’ mental or physical health and safety” will be made public.

What’s necessary at GW is real action to compliment rhetoric: A sanctions PDF is a first step, but it’s not enough to fully inform students about hazing or other misconduct on this campus. As students settle into their new organizations over the next week, they have a right to know what they’re getting into.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, culture editor Emily Holland, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and design editor Sophie McTear.

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