The HazingPrevention.Org Story

A brainstorming session during a 2003 meeting hosted by the Association of Fraternity Advisors generated an idea about the need for a national symposium on the issue of hazing. College speaker's agency CAMPUSPEAK took that idea and organized one the following year. On the heels of that first symposium, the agency organized the first-ever National Hazing Prevention Week (NHPW), and CAMPUSPEAK operated both programs for three years with the financial help of a handful of key sponsors.

In 2007, CAMPUSPEAK Chief Executive Officer Tracy Maxwell left her position with the agency and formed a nonprofit organization, Platforms Inc. Maxwell was passionate about hazing and recognized that no one was really addressing the issue from the standpoint of prevention. So CAMPUSPEAK donated the symposium and NHPW to Maxwell's nonprofit, and HazingPrevention.Org (HPO) was born on September 4, 2007.

"I thought it made more sense for the work of hazing prevention to be done by a nonprofit, and because I felt strongly that we could actually impact this problem with the right kind of focus," Maxwell says. "For decades, organizations and individuals, particularly those in higher education, have been lamenting hazing, and the rest of the population (as well as the media) have largely paid attention only when someone has been injured or killed. Why wasn't someone working on preventing hazing from occurring in the first place?"

Maxwell's first task was to form a volunteer Board of Directors who were or could be as passionate about hazing prevention as she was. This task was also her first success. Of her 11 original members, three are still serving on the Board, including President Joe Gilman, Treasurer Marilyn Fordham and Secretary Gina Lee-Olukoya. Fordham is serving her final term on the Board but has already committed to working on the Development Committee. Founding Board member Dan Bureau has chaired the Governing and Nominating Committee for the past three years. And the first president of the Board, Allison Swick-Duttine, is chairing the National Hazing Prevention Week Committee for a second year. Among the other founding members, Dave Westol continues to assist HPO with legal issues, Hank Nuwer continues to help develop HPO resources, and David Stollman's CAMPUSPEAK is endowing a new poster contest for National Hazing Prevention Week. Most individuals who have served on the Board continue to support the organization financially.

Other than college interns, Maxwell has been the only compensated employee of HPO. So, how does an organization with a singular mission and a reach across North America fulfill its mission with one employee? By attracting hundreds of impassioned and dedicated volunteers who devote their time, talents and expertise to the work of the organization.

"HPO's volunteers know that we can't just care about hazing when it reaches the catastrophic level. They support this work, as I do, because we all feel that something can and should be done about this problem beyond punishing perpetrators, closing organizations and suspending teams after the fact. This group believes in prevention and individual empowerment," Maxwell says.

"Each member of a nonprofit Board has to be passionate about the mission of the organization he has committed to leading. We are passionate about hazing prevention, and that's why we serve HPO," Gilman said. "We are responsible for HPO fulfilling its mission, being good stewards of our financial resources, fulfilling our commitments to those who sponsor us, and building an organization that will be strong and vital not just for now, but for decades to come. No matter who comes and goes in this organization, every person in a leadership role serves the organization and our mission rather than himself," he said.

After five years of leading HPO, Maxwell steps down from her role as executive director at the end of the 2012 calendar year to pursue other things she's passionate about.

"I am most proud of HazingPrevention.Org for changing the conversation about hazing from one based solely upon response (and typically a poor one at that), to one about prevention," Maxwell said. "There is an army of people, and increasingly, a more savvy news media as well, paying attention to hazing in a new way as a result of our work. This group knows that the way to lessen the impacts of hazing, keep problems from worsening and prevent new ones in the future, requires a different approach that involves the following concepts (among others):

  • Engaging students in the solution, rather than just blaming them for the problem;
  • Paying attention to hazing 24/7/365 – not just one week or one program a year;
  • Involving an interdisciplinary team in a coalition to understand and address the specific needs of each organizational and campus culture;
  • Transparency of response which shows clearly the disincentives of practicing unwanted behavior and rewards of practicing desired behavior;
  • Keeping up to date on the latest research regarding hazing, and understanding how the problem shows up locally, and;
  • Utilizing every tool necessary to help engage practitioners and students in addressing the problem, including bystander behavior, hidden harm, policy, enforcement, leadership training, clear communication and reporting channels, appropriate support for victims, engagement of campus and local police, etc.

As HPO celebrates its first five years, everyone from Maxwell and members of the Board, to the dozens of HPO volunteers, recognize that the work of this organization and this movement has just begun. But those first five years have been marked with great success:

  • Broad support from around the higher education community including organizations of all stripes, campuses, vendors, associations and individuals;
  • A strong team of volunteers contributing to the programming, governance, financial viability and direction of the organization and the larger movement;
  • A strong basis in prevention science with programming grounded in research;
  • Recognition of a number of individuals, organizations and campuses for their individual acts of leadership and outstanding prevention efforts, and;
  • Social media presence and campaigns that engage a significant number of people in regular discussions about hazing and its impacts.

As part of the year-long 5th Birthday Bash, HPO has set some ambitious goals to attract 50 National Sponsors, 50 Campus Members, 5,000 Anti-Hazing Pledge takers and $50,000 in donations to endow the Tracy Maxwell HOPE Scholarship for a young higher education professional to attend one of HPO's signature programs, the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention.

"We've experienced a great first five years, thanks to our volunteers, our sponsors, campus members, corporate partners and our leadership," Gilman said. "Just wait and see how much we can accomplish, not just in the next five, but the next 50 or so."

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