University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior Erika Phillips said she had never seen that many people in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall.
“I’ve never seen Roland Hayes as full as it was and I’m a music student, so I literally stay in Roland Hayes,” Phillips said.
The concert hall nearly burst at the seams for a National Hazing Prevention Week conversation on Tuesday, Sept. 26, almost reaching its 505-capacity seating for a Hazing Prevention Workshop.
The workshop, one of the highlights on the “Mocs Don’t Haze” calendar, proved an empowering exchange of ideas between the guest speaker, Dr. Jason Meriwether, and the UTC community. Because students from organizations across campus attended and the event’s organizers encouraged involvement beyond passive listening, the workshop created a diverse body of active participants.
“It was relatable to every audience,” said Phillips, a Delta Sigma Theta sorority member at UTC. “It was more of a conversation because he asked questions and asked for answers, and people were willing to answer. So it’s not like we were just sitting there the whole time listening to him talk.”
The event was a joint effort between the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Family and Student Engagement’s Fraternity and Sorority Life with the support of numerous organizations across campus.
As event-goers discovered, Meriwether’s workshop did more than educate; it ignited a collective determination among students and staff alike. According to Multicultural Affairs Assistant Director and National Pan-Hellenic Council Advisor Christopher Stokes, this event proved the campus community can unite for a greater good.
“It set a tone for our inaugural hazing week… students are ready to listen,” Stokes said, adding that students have already asked for additional presentations. “We’ve had so much support from several campus entities, stakeholders on and off campus… it gives us an opportunity to build.”
Stokes noted that Meriwether, a respected leader within the higher education community, is championing the fight against hazing practices.
“He’s taken his work across the country,” Stokes elaborated. “His experience working with so many campuses across the country has helped him establish a foundation as a consummate expert in the field.”
Meriwether, author of the book, “Dismantling Hazing in Greek-Letter Organizations: Effective Practices for Prevention, Response, and Campus Engagement,” not only disclosed his hazing trauma, but his workshop guided the crowd on a journey evaluating real hazing examples from various student organizations, not just Greek life.
“It made me very emotional attending it,” said senior Cameron Tagavilla, a psychology major who holds three positions within the Delta Phi Lambda sorority. “I think it’s very important that hazing was shown in that way because it makes you realize how serious it can be.
“It seemed like people were taking it more seriously this semester. He was very, very passionate about what he was talking about, especially with having gone through hazing himself… that puts a whole new perspective on it.
“You listen to him and you’re like, wow, hazing can happen literally anywhere. He brought up the statistic of nine out of 10 people experience hazing in high school.”
Trista Fields, a freshman studying special education and a new pledge to Sigma Phi Lambda, had a similarly profound reaction to Meriwether’s presentation.
“I actually loved it,” Fields said before revealing that Meriwether’s self-disclosure brought her to tears. “He was really distraught about what happened to him… If it would have been someone from UTC, everybody would have just ignored them because you have to listen to them.”
Fields had a message for the entire student body.
“If you see it, report it. And if it’s happening to you, don’t be afraid to speak out because I would rather you speak out than… you not be here to tell your story anymore,” she said.
Drew White, a senior majoring in actuarial science and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity president, appreciated Meriwether’s story-driven workshop. As a leader in Greek life, White enforces a zero-tolerance hazing policy and explains that hazing diminishes their community.
“We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for philanthropy events, so we make a big impact in the community,” White said. “Hazing tarnishes that by making people feel less than they should and doesn’t encourage them to get involved in the chapter anymore.
“I would say we’re kind of leading the charge because it is more prevalent in Greek life than any other area, but it’s not just restricted to us.”
Hunter Green, a graduate assistant with Fraternity and Sorority Life, emphasized the difference between what should be told to students and what needed to be conveyed to advisors.
“I think it was a good chance for the advisors to get clarification on liability for themselves and for the school, how to put themselves and the school in a better position to handle [hazing] situations,” Green said. “Most importantly, the event prepared for situations like [hazing] to prevent them from happening in the first place.”
At the end of the event, Meriwether posed for pictures with students and gave out free copies of a book he contributed to titled “Letters to Leaders: Redefining New Member Education and Leveraging Belonging to Eliminate Hazing.”
The Hazing Prevention Workshops aligned with the Hazing Prevention Network’s 2023 mission of creating communities “empowered to prevent hazing.”