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Collective Responsibility

All registered Stanford student organizations (RSOs) must abide by all relevant University policies. RSOs  also bear a certain level of responsibility for the individual actions of their members when this behavior is part of a group activity or the action of the individual represents organization norms. RSOs include Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs) such as arts, cultural, club sports and religious organizations as well as Greek organizations. Unlike Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs), Greek organizations have the privilege of choosing their own members in accordance with their values. With this privilege comes an even greater responsibility of governing their organization’s behavior in a way consistent with the University's educational mission and standards of conduct.

It is expected that every RSO will establish and enforce policies to achieve responsible group governance. While members may be held accountable for their actions individually through the Office of Community Standards’ process, sanctions may also be imposed upon an entire organization for individual member actions through the Organization Conduct Board.

The University uses collective responsibility in the following ways:

Education and Training
The leadership of all RSOs are responsible for primary interface with the University. Designated leadership is responsible for attending required training sessions, webinars, meetings, etc. and communicating relevant University policies to other student organization leadership and general membership. Failure to do this does not negate a student organization’s responsibility to adhere to University policies.  It is the University’s expectation that RSOs and all of their members will proactively seek to understand all University policies and ask questions when things are unclear.

Internal Accountability
All student organizations are expected to hold their membership accountable. For VSOs, the process for internal accountability should be outlined in their constitution under Article 4 - Membership Requirements.

All Greek organizations are expected to have a functioning internal judicial board or an internal accountability structure whereby individual members can be held accountable for behavior not congruent with the values of the organizations and/or the University.  The internal judicial boards should be appropriately balanced between being educational in nature and accountability focused.

Organization Accountability
When conduct problems with student organizations occur, the Office of Student Engagement (OSE), including Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), the University Organization Conduct Board (“OCB”), and other University offices use collective responsibility to help determine the student organization’s level of responsibility.  Possible issues that may be addressed by collective responsibility include but are not limited to poor party planning or event management or oversight, serious injury caused by overconsumption of alcohol, sexual misconduct or assault, drugging or spiking drinks, failing to call for medical help for seriously intoxicated students, failing to report violations of law or policy  at an organization sponsored event on or off campus, hazing, financial malfeasance or serious damage to university property and other issues related to group activity.

When considering the organization’s responsibility, the Office of Student Engagement and the OCB may consider a number of issues including but not limited to:

  • Did the RSO or its leaders officially sanction the activity?
  • Did the RSO or its leaders implicitly encourage the activity even though they did not "officially” sanction it?
  • Were a substantial number of the RSO’s other members or leaders aware, in advance, that the activity might take place?
    • If yes, did they fail to take appropriate steps to prevent it from taking place?
  • Were a substantial number of the RSO’s other members or leaders aware of the misconduct after the fact?
    • If yes, did they take steps to correct the problem(s) that occurred?
  • Did the RSO establish reasonable standards of conduct to which all of its members are to be held? Did it communicate those standards to its members and new members?
  • If the organization has established and communicated such standards, has it implemented a mechanism for enforcing those standards and reviewing alleged breaches of those standards?
  • Have there been previous similar incidents?
    • If yes, has the organization failed to respond to those earlier incidents in a way that might cause one to conclude that misbehavior is condoned by the organization?
  • If the RSO claims this is an isolated incident by renegade members, have other members of the student organization also engaged in "isolated" incidents themselves, such that a pattern of misbehavior and group norms emerges from otherwise seemingly isolated incidents?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, there is a basis for finding the student organization responsible for the behavior of a few members based on the principle of collective responsibility.

If you have additional questions about collective responsibility please reach out to your designated OSE advisor.