RefinED Character is an educational consulting company specializing in social emotional development for preK-12 and collegiate communities.


Hazing Conversations- Lead Through Questioning

February 25, 2014

RefinED Friends,

Within the past few weeks, even more information has emerged regarding the tragic death of Michael Deng at Baruch College in New York.
  This nineteen-year-old young man died at the hands of his future “brothers” after being subjected to excessive physical abuse.  The case has been ruled a homicide, and it is likely the young men involved will feel the legal, emotional, and public consequences for years to come.

Incidents like these clearly match the hazing definition.  Young men and women whose practices cause death or serious injury have little to no retort when questioned about their intentions.

When hazing isn’t this overt, men and women perpetrators will argue that hazing involves a “gray area.”  If practices aren’t listed in a lengthy organization or University definition, or if the perpetrators see it as “harmless fun” or “tradition”, some will argue the supposed gray area.  They’ll rely on sweeping generalizations such as, “No one has been hurt” or “I remember what it taught me when I went through it.”

The reality is gray area debates are natural human reactions when someone is faced with an immediate statement that his/her actions are wrong.  You tell me I’m wrong, I’ll convince you I’m right.  Tell me there’s a hard, fast definition; I’ll find holes in that argument. 

We must inject logic and questioning into the anti-hazing dialogue if we seek lasting change. Sure, we can preach hazing’s many dangers, create comprehensive definitions, and communicate its illegality until we’re blue in the face. Please do not misunderstand, these elements are important in their own ways, but they cannot begin and end the conversation.

Instead, lead through questioning. Allow the individual to reach the realization that hazing does not align with his/her personal or organizational values.  And, if the individual cannot reach that realization through self-analysis, then the choice is made, and you as coach, advisor, etc. ratify that choice by ending his/her tenure within the organization or invoking other logical consequences. 

I have found the following questions most successful when discussing hazing with an individual.  My job is not to judge but rather to listen. With these questions as a foundation, I can spur tangential questions to better understand and clarify. 


  •  Does this practice have educational value?  What are you trying to teach through this practice?
  •  Would you feel physically and emotionally safe participating?
  •  Is the organizational membership participating in the same capacity (or is it something in which the entire membership would participate in the same capacity)?
  •  Does it align with the organization’s stated values?
  •  Is it a practice the organization would publicly post on its website?
  •  Is it something to which you’d be willing to invite your entire family (grandparents, parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc.)?


Finally, the work is incomplete if we help point out discrepancies but don’t provide guidance about how to reconcile those discrepancies.  If a practice I thought built trust doesn’t align with my organization’s values, what practice that builds trust will?  If freshmen don’t learn responsibility by carrying the water, how do we teach responsibility effectively?

I invite you to join the dialogue.  What questions do you find most effective?  What approach may spark lasting change?  Me, I’m here to listen.



Bullying vs. Peer Mistreatment

February 14, 2014

RefinED Friends,

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Education (ED) released a uniform definition for bullying.  It reads as follows:  

Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targe...
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Let's Change Our Search Terms

January 31, 2014

RefinED Friends,

You may have run across a recent compilation from @Amazing_Maps that labels each of the fifty US states with the most common word that auto-completed this sentence in a Google search: "Why is ___(state name)___ so...?"

The results are sometimes predictable, occasionally telling, and relatively consistent with societal stereotypes.    

With this in mind, I decided to apply the same curiosity to education-related questions. According to Google's auto-complete function, which highl...
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Celebrity and Teacher are Synonymous

January 27, 2014

RefinED Friends,

They burst through the glass doors before I had taken five steps from my car.  Flanked on both sides by hugs, I walked inside with them and was met with dumbfounded looks by Starbucks patrons.  Had a celebrity entered just now? By the smiles and excitement of my two former students, with whom I was visiting this Sunday, you might have thought so. One student's mother, accompanying the two, had already secured a table and treated me to a beverage.  The girls had a handmade card...
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Bullying is Not a Rite of Passage

January 21, 2014

RefinED Friends,

Yesterday, my Google Alert daily digest for 'bullying' included a link to a Fox and Friends broadcast discussing Rebecca's Law, potential Florida anti-bullying legislation named after a 12 year old girl, Rebecca Sedwick, that committed suicide after repeated bullying.  In this short clip, the anchor referred to bullying as "almost a rite of passage sometimes for kids."

This is an all too common statement--one often found alongside, "kids will be kids", "boys will be boys", and ...
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You Can't Be My Friend and Haze Me

January 14, 2014

RefinED Friends,

I spent this past weekend in New Orleans for a fraternity Board of Directors meeting.  During that time, we welcomed Dave Westol, founder of Limberlost Consulting, Inc., former Executive VP for Theta Chi Fraternity, and one damn fine dedicated Greek battling the hazing epidemic.  Among his many useful remarks, this resonated beyond others, "You can't be my friend and haze me."

The definition of 'friend' explicitly states 'an interpersonal bond beyond simple association.'  Those...
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If It Takes Time, It's Worth It

January 7, 2014

RefinED Friends,

Today, two weeks post leg surgery, I visited my surgeon for a follow up appointment.  In four weeks, I can return to my athletic passion--running.  "Go slow," the surgeon warned me.  "The biggest mistake people make after a surgery like this is trying to get back to it too quickly.  Go slow."

Confession:  I am not a patient person.  

"But Scott," you say, "aren't you a teacher?  Doesn't that necessitate patience?"  

True, in the classroom I can often channel my patience in servic...
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Pennsylvania Masonic Life Skills Conference- 2014

January 3, 2014

RefinED Friends,

I believe strongly in the transformative work that takes place at this conference.  Twice, I have been privileged enough to serve as a staff facilitator.  I will again in 2015.  Please read the information below and share this information with any students you feel would benefit.

Life Skills Conference 2014

Every summer the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation brings children ages 12-17 from throughout the world to the Patton Campus in Elizabethtown, PA to experience wh...

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Three Names You May Not Know, But Should

December 31, 2013

RefinED Friends,

Jay Giedd, Jean Decety, Lauren Howard.  Do these names ring a bell?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Regardless, they know your brain.  They're in your heads.

I'm a professed neuroscience geek.  Over the last few years, I've become increasingly fascinated by studies involving Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and concentrated research connecting social emotional learning and childhood brain development.  Technology now allows scientists to map active regions of the brain as i...
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Holiday Reading List

December 27, 2013
RefinED Friends,

I sit here, foot propped in the air, after a minor surgical procedure performed on Christmas Eve.  All this forced couch time gives me ample opportunity to build my reading list.  I'll keep today's blog post short and sweet. Here are some books I'll devour over the next few weeks.  

1.  Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence  Daniel Goleman   (already devoured, and highly recommend it!)

2.  Boys Adrift:  The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Unde...
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