Thursday, May 15, 2014

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Hazing, alcohol abuse report to trigger change

AUSTIN – A task force report on hazing and alcohol abuse on campus has triggered an extensive effort by The University of Texas System to change campus culture and eliminate students’ risky behavior.

“Culture change is very difficult, but the hazing and binge drinking that sometimes occur is an issue that is of concern to everyone, and it is an issue we are addressing,” Wanda Mercer, UT System associate vice chancellor for student affairs told the UT System Board of Regents Wednesday.

In accepting the task force’s recommendations, UT Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster noted that often the victims of hazing refuse to report it “because the students might view the benefits of being part of the group as outweighing the harm. That is why culture change is so difficult, but is such a critical component of making this effort a success,” he said.

Regents unanimously adopted the recommendations of the Task Force on Hazing and Alcohol, voting to have a clear, concise system-wide message developed to help bring about culture change by requiring educational efforts to create awareness of the problem and pointing out the harm and consequences of hazing and related binge drinking. The plan also requires institutions to adopt a zero tolerance policy and ensure that accountability for hazing is shared by administrators and campus and student leaders.

Mercer noted that the system-wide initiative is crucial for changing an 18-year-old’s perspective. “Students shouldn’t feel that as part of the ‘initiation rite’ they have to undergo hazing to be accepted into the group,” Mercer said.

Formed in Spring 2013 at the request of then-Chairman Gene Powell, the task force – which secured input and perspective from Greek organizations, athletic teams, academic and other on-campus constituency groups – compiled a series of recommendations to curb hazing, behavior that is frequently characterized by high-risk, binge drinking.

For progress to be made in cutting down such activity “requires students to make informed, responsible decisions, but it also requires that institution leadership be committed and that the commitment be a sustained effort over time,” Mercer noted.

Student surveys, including one in 2007 conducted on 53 campuses across the nation found that more than half of students involved in on-campus clubs, teams or organizations had engaged in behavior meant to humiliate, degrade, abuse, or endanger others or themselves.

It also found that hazing and alcohol abuse frequently go hand-in-hand and that hazing behavior cuts across all organizations, impacting both male and female students.

The task force’s recommendations call for each of the System’s 15 campuses to craft a constituency plan to directly address hazing and binge drinking issues unique to their environment.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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