Texas' New Approach Tames Animal House Frats

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"Having that daily or weekly contact with the Dean of Student's office and constantly reviewing forms and updating permits, it really opened our eyes to the proper way to run an organization and the pitfalls many could fall into," he said. "Our advisors were good about not only answering my questions, but discussing with us the reasons why they needed documentation for everything -- because it was for our own safety."

The process helped Sigma Chi develop new, healthy traditions and shed many of the old practices that occurred before the organization was kicked off campus.

"Paddling is a major thing that has changed for us," Schnitker said. "We don't give out swats any more. We get paddles, but they are trophies and memorabilia only -- things to hang on the wall."

Mercatoris is unaware of any other universities utilizing Texas' mutual agreement program but said she has spoken about the advantages of the program at conferences around the state.

Schnitker and Schultz said they have seen how easy it is for hazing to get out of hand when actions thought to be tradition lose their original intent. Long-thought of traditions such as paddling, celebratory drinking and forced cleaning of rooms and homes are defined as hazing under school rules.

Preserving Traditions

"A tradition means there was a precedent set at some point, but those things can get lost as the years go by," Schultz said. "We [as organizations] need to find ways to preserve our traditions in a safe way."

Mercatoris said many students aren't remotely aware of the breadth of activities that fall under hazing rules. But, she said, for those groups she does work with in the mutual agreement, the education they receive is invaluable.

"I've seen the students begin to take their own initiative, looking to make their own changes and revaluating their organizations without our help," said Mercatoris.

ABCNews.com contributor Travis Measley is a member of the ABC News on Campus program in Austin, Texas.

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