A well-run campus organization must be proactive about everything they do and look at all the potential benefits as well as risks, problems and threats. To make sure all bases are covered I recommend that every organization have policies in place that cover things that can happen at a meeting, conference, trip, activity or even at an organization party. A well thought out and well written Student Organization Risk Management Policy will cover things like:
- The possession and use of alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs
- Hazing and bullying
- Sexual abuse and harassment
- Fire and safety issues (including the possession of a firearm, weapon, or explosive devices)
- Travel to off-campus destinations
- Behavior at parties and other events held by your student organization.
We all like to plan for and anticipate the best but if and when a challenge outside of the norm arises, things can get out of control quickly. I was once training a social organization at a campus on a Saturday morning. They had held an event the night before and a huge fight broke out. The training went as well as could be expected considering that half of the potential audience was in jail or ina counselor’s office being disciplined. You just never know when a member of your group or a guest might start some trouble, harrass someone of even bring weapon. The next thing you know your event has gone in a direction you would never have anticipated. As the saying goes – THINGS HAPPEN – and as an organization leader you need to be prepared to deal with anything.
1. Guidelines for conduct – even when nobody’s looking
A good policy will govern interaction between people. I will cover policies for interaction between the sexes, members treating each other with respect and respecting the roles of officers. These are all traits that are necessary in the real world – civic, political, the workplace, dating, family, etc. – and I see these types of policies as a gift that an organization gives to its members that they can take with them the rest of their lives.
Policy regulating behavior can also be helpful for OBSERVERS of bad behavior if it instructs them about what to do when they witness things that are against policy. Let’s face it. there’s been a lot in the news lately (FAMU, Penn State to name a few) where things have happend and not only did the victims and/or the perpetrators suffer the consequences, but it’s also had ramifications for people who had nothing to do with the incident. I say, if you didn’t know, then you didn’t have policies in place to head off some of those things. If and when they do happen, people who observe will know what to do. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive.
2. Keep the focus on your organization’s mission
When I was a student leader with Circle K International the organization instituted a ‘no alcohol policy.’ A lot of the members and leadership thought it would signal the end of the organization but withing a few years it had become common. Oddly enough as a bi-product of that policy the focus of the organization became community service and not on partying. It helped to emphasize what we stood for. At our conventions we had far fewer challenges dealing with hotel security and nobody was off in separate groups having drinking parties. Instead we were all together participating in the activities or the organization and achieving our goals. From a recruiting perspective the parents loved us. Few other organizations could claim to be alcohol free.
3. An exercise in leadership
From a student advisor standpoint, taking your student leaders through the exercise of creating, modifying or approving your organization’s risk management policy is an exercise in leadership. Your leaders get together and say, “Here are the rules that we are going to have to govern ourselves.” Have your leadership team think through the scenarios, come up with appropriate guidelines and actions, write them down and have them reviewed and approved by administration. College is where you learn how to live your life – and since you don’t get a handbook for life, writing your own rules of conduct and predetermining the consequences of violating them is.. well, I hate to say it but… priceless!