Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reflections on the Zero Tolerance Policy

I enjoyed hearing from Professors Behr and Hamrick last week, and left class wondering if something like the LGBT Working Group’s plan to address recent issues on-campus could apply to the arena of international human rights enforcement. To recap, the Working Group’s plan involves a public administration response to the article published in The Flyer, the hiring of an outside consultant, and the writing of a zero tolerance policy from one of the coaches in the athletic department.

Along with the proposal to address the issues raised in The Flyer, a redrafting of the College’s Commitment to Diversity has been suggested. Professors Hamrick and Behr mentioned that the current version of the Commitment of Diversity must be rewritten to go beyond the merely affirmative language it uses now. The focus on strongly affirmative language and weak implementation is not uncommon among organizations. As Donnelly argues in Chapter 8 of Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, most human rights organizations focus on promoting rights rather than enforcing or implementing them. There are a few notable exceptions that Donnelly points out, such as the European Commission of Human Rights which has a track record for strongly enforcing human rights. Part of the reason for the European Commission’s ability to act as a strictly binding force is, according to Donnelly, due to its presence in a relatively homogenous region and its ability to monitor and adapt specific local practices in light of global human rights norms.

Hannah’s blog post last week drew particular attention to the vagueness of the language in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration. In the discussion that followed, it seemed that most people believed that an international consensus over a more specific wording of articles in the Universal Declaration would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Looking at the success of the European Commission as well as the LGBT Working Group’s plan, I’d like to offer another idea for a redrafting the Universal Declaration.

To encourage a more global shift from promotion to enforcement, perhaps each country could be required to draft a “zero tolerance” policy for human rights violations by drawing from the Universal Declaration. I’m not sure how the requirement would be mandated, or who would be responsible for drafting the document within each country, but I really like the idea of having, in the case of the Rhodes athletics department, a coach draft the zero tolerance policy for the athletics community. The policy is universal in the sense that it is rooted in the College’s Commitment to Diversity, yet it also has the specificity often necessary to ensure compliance of broader norms. I think that this type of model will result in a higher level of relevance and accountability, and that a similar approach could be applied in the international community. Although, it does raise a ton of questions. Who would oversee the drafting and ratification of these policies? Could the UN Commission on Human Rights read all the proposals and give the final stamp of approval? What would happen if the UN or other countries disagreed with the policies articulated in another country’s zero tolerance policy or didn’t find them sufficient? Would country-specific zero tolerance policies be an effective way to enforce human rights, or simply another opportunity for tyrants to find loopholes in legislation?


  1. In regards to our own school, I'm a little skeptical of the zero tolerance policy. I could see it applying to athletics (which is, I guess, where a large part of the problem lies), but I think extending it to the whole school would 1) do far more harm than good. 2) be an extreme violation of rights.
    Regarding 1, I think the school as a whole is passed the kind of discrimination that deserves legislating. Discrimination is more subtle now. General attitude and undertones that make the environment less welcome are where the premier part of the problem lie. Legislating zero tolerance would bring out indignation from undertones and possibly stir up more issues than it would put to rest.
    Secondly, while our college is private and, consequently, has autonomous decision over rules, it would be against its ideals for a liberal arts college to in any way begin to infringe upon freedom of speech. The hope is that the hatred simply won't win out in the marketplace of ideas.

    Now I don't think you were discussing extending the policy to the whole school but I for some reason felt like addressing it anyway. Regarding sports, that is a voluntary commitment within a voluntary commitment to college. I see no reason why that cannot be monitored or have a zero tolerance policy enforced.

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  3. Shannon notes the relative success of the European Commission as being "due to its presence in a relatively homogeneous region and its ability to monitor and adapt specific local practices." You could just as well apply this description to an athletic team, inasmuch as it is a freely chosen association of individuals who are uniting for a narrow common purpose (whatever the particular sport may be), and in that context it is not unreasonable to expect relatively stringent regulation of certain kinds of speech or behavior deemed detrimental to the organization as a whole.

    The college as a whole, conversely, though it also in some sense such a goal-directed organization (the goal being a liberal education), is much broader in scope and contains a wide variety of individuals with their own goals, projects, and viewpoints. It is more like society as a whole than it is like a football team. Consequently, attempts to impose speech codes on such a community are more likely to create resentment and polarization than to foster an atmosphere of tolerance.

  4. Honestly, I think a no tolerance policy would be hard to implement within the athletic department as well as in the entire school. Both Ryley and Patrick point out that the athletic department would be a more specific group of people. Yet, having been a part of the cross-country, track and tennis team here at Rhodes it is hard for me to believe there is any less diversity within the athletic department than the entire school. That being said,I don't think it would be any easier to suggest a no tolerance policy. I understand that it is a choice to be a part of the team, but to suggest that each athlete from all the different teams would react in the same way is to suggest the same thing about the school as a whole. A critical part of the No tolerance policy would be the administration following through. It is not a choice for the coaches to need or desire to win, and it would be hard for them to all abide in the same way. I am not saying it couldn't be done, but I think the no tolerance policy should be coach and team specific all abiding under the same guidelines.

  5. Like the college as a "whole," the athletic department as a "whole" contains a wide variety of individuals with their own goals, projects, and viewpoints. Implementing a "no tolerance" policy within the athletic department would encompass all sports teams, which do, in fact, contain a significant amount of diversity. The idea that the college's problem with hurtful comments/actions stems from the athletic department is also questionable. There have been a number of incidents involving these activities that have absolutely no relation to athletes or to the athletic department. In addition, as a two sport athlete (baseball and track), I know a great number of athletes who do not participate in or tolerate this behavior. Therefore, because the diversity of the athletes reflects the diversity of the students at Rhodes College, the administration would be better off implementing a no tolerance policy that applies to ALL of its students, rather than targeting a specific group of people.

    Like the problems that would arise if countries were to enforce their own policies ("right" or "wrong" actions would then be subjective), each department should not be given the responsibility of implementing their own policy. There must be some sort of institution that enforces a universal policy. In this case, it would be the administration.

  6. So, to add to a growing list of comments on this post, which was by the way, very well-written, I have this to say.

    As a member of the LGBT community and the Rhodes community, and as one who has been actively involved in social life and even in athletics, I can assure you that comments, bigoted in nature, occur in all aspects of campus life. As pointed out earlier, being on a sports team is a voluntary commitment, and being on that team, one has allegiance to one's school. In an ideal world, a school-wide policy would be reflected in the practices adopted by sports teams, student groups, etc.

    The athletic teams at Rhodes do in fact reflect decent diversity, and because these students are in fact students of Rhodes College, I do believe that our school's policy implementers would be far better off in enforcing a zero tolerance policy to the entire college, students and faculty alike. Trust me, it's not just the sports teams engaging in this foolish and childish behavior, and not all people on the teams participate in it.


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