LEWISBURG, Pa. – Dr. Joe Thomas, a distinguished member of the Student-Leader Seminar faculty, returned to campus on Tuesday to speak to Bucknell’s student-athletes about the topic of hazing within the broader scope of team leadership.
Hazing is an issue that has been pervasive in high school and college athletics throughout the country in recent years, but Dr. Thomas noted that the traditional lecturing of students about the dangers and implications of hazing has not produced effective change. Instead, he said, hazing should be viewed as an issue of team climate and leadership.
Dr. Thomas is a retired U.S. Marine who has studied and taught leadership and ethics in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East. His teaching stops include the U.S. Naval Academy, University of Notre Dame, University of Maryland and the National Outdoor Leadership School. He is an expert on leadership and a faculty member with the Student-Leader Seminar, an organization designed to introduce the topic of ethical leadership through highly interactive discussions built around the themes of leading with purpose, ethical decision making, and the value of character. In August, Dr. Thomas was one of three Student-Leader Seminar instructors who led a series of colloquiums with the Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy.
On Tuesday, he addressed the entire body of Bison student-athletes and began by noting that statistically, athletes are the most likely population to have experienced hazing on a college campus. He surprised many in the room by noting that highly successful, high-cohesion teams are actually more susceptible to hazing than less-successful teams.
Whereas hazing was often implicitly endorsed by coaches and athletics programs throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the “New Hazing” model has moved underground, and as a result it has become more about social cohesion than about winning games or championships.
Since hazing activities are now typically administered by team members, Dr. Thomas suggests that student-athlete leadership is the solution to the problem.
“The phrase ‘lead by example’ means something more today,” he said during the morning session at Trout Auditorium. “Student-athletes are in the public eye and team values are constantly on display, so they must focus on character more than ever.”
During his presentation, Dr. Thomas emphasized a key distinction between culture and climate. While an organization’s culture is typically slow-moving and can cross multiple generations, its climate is local and can change quickly based on the actions of a few key members. He said that team leadership is about climate, and that strong leadership within a program can face a challenge or difficult situation and turn it around.
“I want to thank Joe Thomas for coming back to Bucknell to engage our student-athletes in a very essential and frank discussion on the important topic of hazing,” said John Hardt, director of athletics and recreation. “We do not condone or tolerate hazing activities at Bucknell, and I agree with Joe’s take that strong student-athlete leadership is required to prevent it from happening.”
The Bucknell Department of Athletics and Recreation continues to provide educational opportunities for student-athletes in a wide variety of areas. In addition to hazing, in recent years seminars have been held on topics such as sexual harassment and safe dating, nutrition, and gambling.
The Bucknell Bison Leadership Academy was launched in August 2011 with the goal of delivering programming and instruction that bridge theory, development and real experiences in an interactive learning environment. The skills learned through the Leadership Academy helps team leaders enhance their impact on their teammates’ and their program’s performance immediately and for years to come.