With a record 42,000 students enrolled, California State University, Northridge is launching its 2015-16 academic year with a flurry of activities — from picnics and a Matadors Day of Service to Freshman Convocation — to welcome its students, including the reinstatement of students’ ability to engage in fraternity and sorority recruitment efforts.
New-member recruitment, intake and pledging was suspended last year following several hazing incidents and the tragic death of Armando Villa. During that time, student leaders — with the support of campus staff — dedicated themselves to an intense process of discussion and self-reflection. This exchange resulted in a set of recommendations intended to change the culture and end hazing behaviors within the Greek community, and to improve the overall quality of new-member recruitment and intake processes.
These guidelines, created and submitted by the CSUN New Member Intake Review Committee, were adopted by university officials this summer and underscore CSUN’s zero-tolerance policies on hazing. The guidelines emphasize personal responsibility, as well as organizational accountability, with a focus on Greek chapter programs and activities related to new members. They also focus on increased transparency for achievements and infractions among the fraternities and sororities.
Senior Joshua Stepakoff, president of CSUN’s Interfraternity Council and co-chair of the New Member Intake Review Committee, said committee members believed the root of the issue was in an “outdated” view of what it means to be a fraternity or sorority member.
“As student leaders, we came to the realization that there needs to be a culture shift among our peers and within the fraternity and sorority community,” Stepakoff said. “A return to our fundamental values — core values such as respect, dignity, leadership and service to our communities — values that should never be associated with behaviors that potentially harm or humiliate another person under the guise of belonging, ritual or tradition.”
He noted that there is significant support and excitement around the new direction of the Greek community.
“Everyone is looking forward to the ability to recruit, but more importantly, our community understands and knows it was time for a change,” he said.
In fall 2014, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said that this change was not negotiable and that student safety was of paramount importance.
“Fraternities and sororities have long provided meaningful leadership, service and philanthropic opportunities to our students,” she said. “However, Greek life must take place in a hazing-free environment. I am pleased that Greek student leaders have championed the necessary cultural shift to move past the outdated and toxic thinking that leads to hazing.”
Since the suspension of recruitment efforts, university administrators made it clear that new member intake activities would not be allowed to resume until acceptable guidelines were developed and adopted for use by all recognized fraternity and sorority chapters. Student leaders worked closely with their peers, as well as campus administrators, to achieve this goal.
“Following a thorough review of the proposed guidelines and several opportunities to listen to students engage in thoughtful dialogue about changing Greek culture through use of the then-proposed guidelines, I became confident that it is time to permit the resumption of new-member intake,” said William Watkins, CSUN’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “The new guidelines require the positive participation of all active members, and it is expected that all members will fully support the leaders of their fraternity or sorority chapters as the new guidelines are implemented.”
Watkins pointed out that the university’s zero tolerance for hazing remains in effect.
“This means that prospective, new and active members are expected to report all acts of hazing, and every report will be taken seriously and investigated,” he said. “Confirmed acts of hazing will result in individual student and/or chapter sanctions as appropriate.
The guidelines include requiring the submission of a form on which the president of the sorority or fraternity chapter acknowledges and agrees that the chapter will abide by the new guidelines; all recruitment and new-member education will be concluded before the start of finals, and an emphasis will be placed on educating new members and pledges about hazing prevention and bystander intervention; and increasing visibility of all pre-initiation/recruitment activities by placing them online where anyone, including parents, can see them. The online content would also contain information about new-member intake/education plans and list any conduct sanctions against the organization in the past five years.
A moratorium on new-member off-campus retreats, outings, hikes and similar events remains in place this fall while guidelines policing those activities are finalized.
“It goes without saying that many individuals on and off campus will be watching to see whether the fraternity and sorority community at CSUN will move in the right direction of providing a high-quality engagement in Greek life without future incidence of harm to our students,” Watkins continued. “We are all hoping that as the semester moves forward, we will see the emergence of a new era of Greek life.”
New-member recruitment for fraternities and sororities formally begins next week. It is one of more than a dozen activities taking place on the campus in conjunction with the start of the new academic year.
Thousands of students attended the annual President’s Welcome Picnic on Aug. 27, and hundreds of freshmen fanned out into the community to take part in several beautification projects on Aug. 29, as part of the inaugural Matadors Day of Service.
Today and tomorrow, thousands of students will be exploring hundreds of ways to get involved on campus at CSUN’s annual Meet the Clubs events. On Saturday, Sept. 9, thousands of students will take part in Matador Nights, an evening celebration of the start of the new year. The welcome activities culminate on Thursday, Sept. 10, with Freshman Convocation, an annual event that formally welcomes first-year students to the university.