Living Our Values: Administrative Report

(Aug. 18, 2010)

Executive summary

Wake Forest University has a history of being an inclusive and tightly-knit community that fosters academic excellence and publically-engaged students. The vibrancy of our campus community and Wake Forest’s strong academic reputation and purposeful mission are among the many reasons that students, faculty, staff, and alumni cherish the institution. However, recent events and changing trends in student and residential life have begun to erode these distinguishing characteristics while endangering the lives of our students. Increased incidents of alcohol abuse combined with the movement of parties and student celebrations to off-campus locations have weakened community on campus, angered neighbors, and produced great concern among members of the University family.

To preserve the traditions and residential nature of our campus and ensure the health and safety of our students, the University believes that a coordinated plan of action to bolster residential living and campus vibrancy is necessary. In order to reinforce the importance of our residential community, we are considering the following proposals: First, move toward a three-year residency requirement and heighten qualification standards for students living in off-campus single-family residences. Second, combine these efforts to keep students on campus with an enlarged and enriched repertoire of campus-wide activities and new on-campus social venues to allow student groups to host parties and celebrations. Third, hire a Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator to strengthen alcohol education programs and increase the safety of our students. Fourth, reaffirm the University administration’s commitment to Greek life as an important facilitator of social life on campus by strengthening leadership and financial support for Greek organizations (reestablishing the importance of the role of the faculty advisor, requiring presidents of groups with campus lounges to live in their residences, and depositing lounge rental payments into a fund for lounge renovations) and supporting student Greek leadership’s plan to voluntarily adopt a higher GPA eligibility requirement for first-year students as an alternative to the adoption of sophomore rush. Fifth, as recent events have emphasized, “hazing” represents one of the most dangerous threats to student safety and undermines the fundamental values of our community, besides being illegal. Therefore, we will increase our efforts to educate students on these risks and outline serious and clear consequences for any group engaging in hazing or promoting other dangerous activities.

Our hope is that these actions, combined with the many other plans outlined below, will increase the safety of our students, create a more engaged and inclusive community, reaffirm the primacy of the academic endeavor at the University, and encourage students to live lives of meaning and worth.


Background

Social life at Wake Forest University has undergone dramatic changes in the last two decades. Student parties have moved off campus, mostly to local rental houses in surrounding neighborhoods. These off-campus events have remained popular, even amid loosened restrictions for on-campus parties. Unfortunately, such parties have posed significant risks. In recent years students have been robbed or injured making their way to and from off-campus parties, and increased enforcement by the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) has resulted in hundreds of violations at off-campus gatherings. This spring a Greek pledge night celebration at the Millennium Center resulted in the transportation of so many seriously intoxicated students to the emergency room that the county EMS director declared a public emergency and instructed police to close the event.

These occurrences generated considerable concern among faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and student leaders about the nature of social life on and off campus. Such concerns led to a study by the Student Life Committee regarding the strength and stability of Greek life. A University Committee on Off-Campus Living composed of students, faculty, and staff was tasked to examine off-campus residential life. The University has now received reports from these committees and begun to evaluate these recommendations as cast against the greater landscape of Wake Forest’s aspirations for its students and the existing student culture. This report details that response and provides a new vision for social life at Wake Forest. Our aim is to create an environment that facilitates a vibrant community that attracts students to campus social activities while guarding against abusive drinking and unhealthy behavior. We propose action plans and recommendations that encompass four broad facets of student life and our University’s mission: preserving the health and safety of our students, creating an engaged and inclusive community, emphasizing the primacy of the academic endeavor, and encouraging our students to live lives of meaning and worth.

It bears highlighting that an integral part of the University’s plan moving forward will be the renewal of Greek organizations as an important aspect of our on-campus community. While Greek life has never been nor should it be the only outlet for campus involvement and social life at Wake Forest, Greek organizations have played an important role in the University’s history. Alumni have spoken favorably, if somewhat nostalgically, about a time when fraternities commonly hosted parties in their lounges open to the entire campus community, and Greek organizations have made hallmark events such as the Brian Piccolo Cancer Drive an important part of our University. Our plans for the future involve bringing Greek organizations back on campus and strengthening the harmony and community between Greeks, independents, and the entire University while also increasing student safety and academic performance.

Student Health, Safety, and Security

Safety, security, and good health are underlying prerequisites for learning. The University has no more foundational duty than to ensure that students remain safe from circumstances that may jeopardize their capacity to learn and grow. The challenge of the modern university is to assure the reasonable safety of students while combating the adverse consequences of alcohol abuse. Because youth is a time of risk taking, exuberance, and experimentation, this task has always required a delicate balance between the cultivation of independence and the need to mitigate risks. Today, society has heightened its expectations for the avoidance of harm. Precautions have been mandated by laws and policies that restrict the parameters of acceptable risk. But often such laws have unintended consequences. The elevation of the drinking age, principles of social host liability, federal law mandates for alcohol enforcement on campus, increased alcohol law enforcement off-campus by ALE, and restrictive fraternity risk management policies (FIPG) have contributed to the trend of parties moving to off-campus residential locations.

Today’s environment is very different than alumni experienced at Wake Forest ten or fifteen years ago. High risk drinking, including front end loading in individual rooms and the rising consumption of hard liquor has steadily increased nationwide at colleges and universities. Social media often fuel perceptions or “normalize” attitudes involving excessive drinking, hazing, or sexual encounters. In fact, at Wake Forest approximately 25% of students still classify themselves as abstainers, about 25% as high risk drinkers, and the remainder as moderate drinkers. Most student conduct issues flow from the abuse of alcohol or drugs. In the last few years University Police and Residence Life and Housing staff have become increasingly concerned about assaults and generally more aggressive conduct when students are under the influence.

Although we may not be able to completely eliminate the risks of college life, we can facilitate the conditions needed by students to engage in reasonably safe social activities. In this regard we believe that the education and empowerment of student leaders to create socially appropriate standards of accountability and safety are critical to assuring such a climate. Recent experiments with student self-monitoring of campus events, such as “Seize the Quad,” have resulted in fewer presentations at the student health center for alcohol abuse. Students report that many underage students “front end load” if they party off-campus, in order to avoid being cited for underage drinking at these venues. Clearly this conduct only endangers students traveling to and partying at off-campus events. Moreover, students are not as protected in these environments as they are on campus, where student intervention, proximity to residence halls, university police protection, and medical assistance are all conveniently available.

In view of these dynamics the University plans to pursue the following action items:

  • Create new on-campus social venues to allow student groups to host group-sponsored and campus-wide events. Planning and design of two such venues has already begun.
  • Provide an enlarged and enriched repertoire of campus-wide activities, events, and programs on each weekend night as well as during the week.
  • Expand incentives for hosting lounge parties, and renovate a lounge in Luter Hall to be made more conveniently available for any student group to host parties.
  • At the request of student organizations, close on weekend nights guest parking lots on either side of Hearn Plaza to allow for party expansion.
  • Support and participate in Winston-Salem community events.
  • Continue the University Shuttle route to downtown and college town venues.
  • Permit tailgating at designated soccer games under standards developed by the Athletic Department in collaboration with Campus Life and Student Government.
  • Reopen the nightclub in college town, presently known as “The Last Resort,” under new management to be made available to student groups with University-provided shuttles.
  • Heighten qualification standards to live in off-campus houses in single family residential areas while gradually withdrawing permissions to live in houses distant from campus. Students living in off-campus single family residences are expected to control the nature and size of parties carried out in or on their premises consistent with the standards of the University.
  • After one incident, disciplinary action, or warning (parents and landlords as well as students will be notified of warnings), disruptive parties in single family neighborhoods that are the subject of Winston-Salem Police intervention will result in the revocation of off-campus housing approval for individual students and other group sanctions, including the loss of a pledge class, for a fraternity reasonably perceived as hosting the party.

Engaged and Inclusive Community

The strength of the Wake Forest student social community derives largely from the openness, accessibility, and sense of inclusion characteristic of a closely-knit residential campus. It also comes from close faculty-student engagement. Although the University has attempted to counter the movement off campus with several incentives over the last few years, the student culture has continued to gravitate toward off-campus residences for parties and living spaces. The fire code capacity of lounges, coupled with fraternity risk management standards, has contributed to this unfortunate trend, although the primary driver seems to be students’ perceived need to party without restrictions. In fact, large parties at off-campus residences often become uncontrollable by the residents and have led to numerous citations, arrests, noise violations, sexual assaults, fights, and student injuries, not to mention considerable neighborhood unrest.

The residential character of Wake Forest is a critical factor in promoting its values. As compared with off-campus students, residential students consistently report higher gains in cognitive growth, leadership, social skills, humanitarianism and the ability to get along with people. Students who live on campus are more engaged with fellow students and faculty, more involved in campus life, and take advantage of more opportunities for growth and learning. They are less likely to become isolated and withdrawn. In addition, a robust and healthy student community results from the leadership of upper-class students who remain on campus. Many residential colleges have long recognized these advantages and have required students to live on campus for three or four years. Duke University requires three years, and Vanderbilt recently moved to a four-year residency requirement. Wake Forest presently has a two-year requirement. More students choose to move off campus in the junior year, and fraternity block housing has become less attractive as few fraternity officers choose to live in their organization’s residence. In part students enjoy the freedom of living off campus, and in part they appreciate the amenities offered by apartment or house living. Although the University has designed a new upper-class apartment style residence hall, the economic downturn necessitated delaying these plans.

Another important piece to an inclusive and engaged community is the relationship between students and faculty group advisors. Where there is effective, continuous, and cooperative symbiosis between students and faculty/staff/alumni advisors, student organizations are reminded of their mission and principles in ways that promote leadership, accountability, and purpose. Unfortunately, with less time and more professional obligations fewer faculty members are engaged in advising student organizations, including Greek organizations. Organizations founded on principles of honor, service, and integrity fall short of realizing their full potential when members see their purpose as exclusively social in nature. In Wake Forest’s history, strong, consistent advising and mentorship of Greek organizations has proven successful in securing organizational health and stability.

To ensure that our students gain the benefits of a truly engaged community, the University plans to pursue the following action items:

  • Begin planning to eventually implement a three-year residency requirement. These plans will require approval and preparations to construct an upper-class residence hall.
  • Place leased lounge revenue obtained from student organization lounges into a fund to supplement the costs of periodic lounge improvements and renovations for groups that open their lounges for common use.
  • Require presidents of groups with campus lounges, block housing, or theme housing to live in their residences.
  • Restore the importance of the faculty advisor through Provost appointments, enhanced recognition for service, and funds to entertain their group.
  • Encourage organizations to host parties on campus by establishing a fund to reasonably defray the difference in cost between hosting a party off campus and on campus.

Primacy of the Academic Endeavor

Wake Forest students prize the strength of our academic programs and the relationships that are engendered by a small student-faculty ratio. Students choose Wake Forest primarily because of its academic reputation, but also because it combines the advantages of a smaller liberal arts college with the advantages offered by larger research universities. They especially appreciate the value of cultivating close personal friendships in an environment where they are still known by name. They appreciate participation in or supporting competitive athletic programs. The research, entrepreneurship, and service learning opportunities available to students rival much larger schools. Yet, our liberal arts orientation permeates our culture, adding ethical and philosophical dimensions to the consideration of life’s most enduring questions.

This unique and rigorous academic environment challenges even the most capable students. It frequently surprises well-prepared students from some of the best secondary schools in the country. These challenges can overcome many students as they adjust to first-year studies. The ready availability of extracurricular activities must be managed in an environment that offers considerable freedom and range of choice. The “work hard, play hard” mantra of many high achievers often leads to overextension, stress, and exhaustion. Sometimes, it can unwittingly foster alcohol or drug abuse. Living a balanced life is always a challenge for first-year students as they attempt to integrate academic demands with new found freedoms, build friendships, bond as a class, and adjust to college as they grow in independence with their cohort.

Complicating the dilemmas of first-year student life are the rigors of first-year pledging for students who choose to participate in Greek life. At Wake Forest, Greek life has historically played an important role by contributing to the vitality of life on campus and creating avenues for students to pursue philanthropic and leadership-oriented activities. At the same time, national studies show negative effects associated with first-year pledging on the cognitive development of young men. A separate analysis of the Wake Forest average grade point for first year, second semester Greek men showed a statistically significant difference in performance from those men who did not pledge. The analysis revealed no statistically significant difference for women, and the difference for men did not extend beyond the first year.

To emphasize the primacy of academics and to reaffirm Wake Forest’s commitment to Greek life on campus, we will pursue the following action items:

  • Promote a structured series of campus-wide conversations about the nature of freedoms and responsibilities associated with living and working in an academic community dedicated to humanitarian service. What kind of community do we want to be and how do we structure our lives and programs to accomplish our goals? As part of this dialogue the University will invite the North-American Interfraternity Conference’s Fraternity-Sorority consulting team to conduct a review of Greek Life with Greek leaders, faculty, alumni advisors, and officials.
  • Continue the policy of allowing the self-management of campus parties by sponsoring organizations.
  • Facilitate easier registration of student parties where alcohol is served by creating a web site that allows registration at least 24 hours in advance. Registration will require evidence that the hosting organization understands and agrees to safe party practices, which will be explained on a new educational site.
  • Study the rush and bid invitation process in consultation with Greek leadership to consider the academic and personal wellbeing of students and the needs of the academic community.
  • Acknowledge the commitment of Greek leaders to voluntarily adopt a higher GPA eligibility requirement for first-year students as a worthwhile alternative to the adoption of sophomore rush.
  • Develop a more formal program to educate students about Greek life from the perspective of both Greek and independent students.
  • Deliver a comprehensive program of student development that acquaints students and parents with important information, events, activities, and services tailored to the interests and needs of first-year students.

Lives of Meaning and Worth

The liberal arts tradition of higher education aims to cultivate the capacity to live an examined life. Through exploration of various disciplines the horizon of knowledge expands to embrace the larger questions of purpose and meaning in life and work. Wake Forest has always strived to provide students with an education directed toward finding one’s place in societal endeavors, whether it is in business, science, public service, the professions, or the arts. But life outside of the classroom also offers lessons in experience and reflection that should inform one’s pursuit of meaning. Who am I? What shall I do with my life? How shall I live in a way that brings worth and meaning to my life and those with whom I live and work? How shall I contribute to the world in which I live? Ideally, during the college years the integration of knowledge with experience serves to form one’s identity, self concept, efficacy, empathy, and sense of ethical responsibility in ways that foster learning and growth. One of our goals is to help focus first-year students on honor, responsibility, and Pro Humanitate. The sophomore program, called INventure, will provide programs, events, and other opportunities to help students consider the big questions of life, including their own meaning and purpose.

Sadly, the persistent problem of alcohol abuse on the nation’s campuses poses the most significant risk to a student’s personal and academic progress. It is consistently ranked by many college presidents as the most intractable issue on college campuses because it leads to so many injurious consequences. The University has devoted significant effort to assessing and implementing promising practices that may reduce alcohol abuse and its untoward impact on the lives of our students. Ours is one of the few colleges that offer formal alcohol education in its introductory health classes. Recently, the University Alcohol Coalition studied several promising practices which will be implemented this year. Research on the effectiveness of alcohol education suggests that parental conversations about alcohol use and abuse can positively influence students to moderate use. Moreover, individual student conferences with substance abuse prevention counselors can change misplaced perceptions of student alcohol use and problematic alcohol-related behaviors. In addition to existing programs, the University will create a more individualized alcohol education program for students. It will also notify parents of any alcohol-related warning or offense with recommendations about how to conduct a conversation around alcohol issues with their student.

A related threat to students’ personal and academic progress is hazing, and of all student organizations, fraternities have most often suffered disciplinary consequences as a result of incidents of hazing[1]. Often seen as harmless by some members, hazing persists in many organizations despite educational programs, specific policies, and signed promises to prevent it. Such practices often involve house duties, sleep deprivation, and road trip duties. Some duties, such as “sober driving,” violate national standards, but are perceived as appropriate risk avoidance tasks. Others are more degrading and dangerous, such as peer pressure to drink large quantities of alcohol. More often than not, troubled fraternities defend such actions by claiming that participation in them involves free individual choice, while forgetting that allowing the practice to occur without consequences represents tacit approval by the organization. But Greeks are not the only group that has been found responsible for such practices in the past. Their size, the scope of their social activities, and their members’ propensity to drink in excess (as demonstrated by several national studies) often expose them to more scrutiny than others. In fact, other student groups, from athletic teams to the band, have been disciplined for hazing.

Hazing represents one of the most dangerous threats to student safety. Several groups have lost their charters for such conduct. It cannot be tolerated if the safety of students is to be maximized. But there is another untoward consequence of hazing. It undermines the values of the academy and degrades the human spirit. It is also illegal. It is based not upon the virtue of cultivating good friendships, but upon the abuse of power. Nothing is more inimical to the principles of the academy than the exercise of power over another person who must comply with instructions to perform a foolish act in order to prove his or her worth. One’s worth should be founded upon acts of generosity, empathy, integrity, and strength of purpose. If hazing becomes a rite of passage, it usually persists in the culture. Not only does it undermine the values of the academy, it destroys the worthwhile connections to be made between classroom and out of classroom experiences. It prevents students from integrating their education by dismissing the value of human dignity and respect for every person in our community.

To encourage our students to live lives of meaning and worth, we plan to pursue the following action items:

  • Strengthen alcohol education and engagement initiatives in ways that encourage students to take individual and collective responsibility for their actions.
  • Retain a Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator and strengthen alcohol education programs to reflect recent promising practices. Present programs during Orientation, in the residence halls, in HES classes, for party hosts, and during Greek orientation will be supplemented with group and individual engagement sessions for “at risk” students.
  • Recognizing that the first-year students are most “at risk,” it is critical that they participate in all Orientation activities. Therefore, first-year students are required to attend all Orientation activities and upper class students should not plan parties or other events that compete with these activities.
  • Continue current alcohol policies that involve progressive intervention from warnings to infraction to offense, while supplementing with required conversations with University staff about alcohol use and encouragement to parents to also engage in such conversations with their student. Parents will be notified of all warnings, infractions, or offenses associated with alcohol and offered resources to assist in conversations with their student.
  • Activities or events that are reasonably perceived as a substantial risk to the safety, health, and wellbeing of students will result in serious disciplinary consequences, including loss of off-campus housing, block housing, lounges, or other organizational privileges. Hazing will result in loss of University recognition. An extended pledge period beyond the approved six-week period will result in loss of a pledge class.
  • “Pledge Night” celebrations will occur only on campus on a Friday night.
  • Student leaders will use University funding and support to develop and implement plans to cease the dangerous practice of consuming a fifth of liquor at the last home football game.
  • Host a student leadership conference on the subject of Change and Community in the fall semester.

[1] According to the 2009 – 2010 Student Handbook, “Hazing includes attempting to or recklessly or negligently causing physical or emotional injury. Hazing activities and behaviors include, but are not limited to, the following: the forced consumption of any substance, sleep deprivation, paddling or striking in any manner, performing calisthenics, personal servitude, conducting activities that do not allow time to meet academic commitments, requiring the violation of University policies, or federal, state or local laws, and any activity likely to cause embarrassment or humiliation.” (Student Handbook, Fall 2009/Spring 2010, p. 47)