G.2 Group Responsibility for Student Organizations
The Student Conduct Code’s overall general principles (Section 10.00) incorporate the expectation that students will meet higher standards of conduct than the minimum to avoid disciplinary action, and also assert that university standards may be set higher than those found elsewhere in society. Consistent with these principles, USC has established the following policy to ensure that leaders and members of student organizations understand and accept responsibility for the actions of their organization and all of its members. The following policy applies to all recognized student organizations.
Student organizations may be held responsible for the acts of individual members. Acts include but are not limited to the following types of circumstances:
- when a member of an organization is violating state law or university standards and other members present fail to indicate their disapproval, or by their continued presence without objection implicitly condone the behavior;
- when the acts grow out of or are directly related to the student organization’s activities or an environment created by the organization;
- when the acts are those of guests of an organization, or by persons authorized or permitted to represent themselves as connected with the organization;
- when an organization places prospective members in a subordinate status prior to achieving full membership, or imposes any kind of probationary period prior to full membership, and hazing occurs.
Liability on the part of the student organization may be mitigated if members of the organization take reasonable steps to prevent infractions of university regulations by their fellow members. Such steps will usually include clear establishment of standards (preferably in writing), documented education of members as to the standards established and documented enforcement of standards when violations occur. The specific steps necessary to avoid this liability (or to mitigate consequences) will vary according to the circumstances of the situation, the seriousness of the behavior, and the possible harms which could have arisen from the behavior. Where more serious behavior and harm is in question, the student organization has the duty to take clear and firm action that is reasonably calculated to prevent and/or cease the behavior in question.
It is the duty and responsibility of every member of every student organization to respond to the conduct of the other members when they are engaged in behavior which violates the law or university regulations. It is not the number of members involved in an activity that is crucial to a determination that the organization is responsible. The test is whether the activity is related to a student organization through one of the four sets of circumstances previously articulated, rather than a private activity by persons who happen to be members of the same student organization. The factors to be considered include whether the activity is one normally considered part of student organization life and whether the atmosphere in the particular organization encourages or condones the particular group activity of the members.
It is the duty of every organization to create the proper atmosphere to ensure that misconduct related to the student organization is inconsistent with membership in the organization.
The duty just defined is applicable not only to members who are engaged directly in the activity, but also to members not engaged in the activity who are present or who have knowledge of the activity. For instance, knowledge of involvement by other members in illicit activities is sufficient to invoke culpability. All members must be on notice that their misdeeds may result in the sanctioning of their student organization through the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards.
In addition to the group being held culpable, members and officers may be cited and held responsible as individuals for their role. In sum, the policy is that every student organization member has the duty to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent infractions of university rules growing out of or related to the student organization’s life. Policies which may be relevant in such cases include, but are not limited to, those involving:
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Misappropriation of organization or university funds.
For more information contact the Offices for Residential Education and Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development, Student Union 200, (213) 740-2080, or Campus Activities, (213) 740-5693.
Revised April 2007.