Reprint – Originally posted in Pacific Eye Magazine, October 2007
Hazing is an ugly and all too common reality
It happened within a one-week span. It happened in Middle America. It happened in the north at Salve Regina College in Newport, RI. It happened in the city at Rider University in Trenton, NJ. It happened in the Midwest at Metro East High School in Virden, IL. It even happened right smack in the middle of the predominantly Republican state of Utah at East High School, a state noted for its staunch conservatism. And in the South it happened on the campus of the University of Texas.
It does not matter where you live, what your socio-economic standing is or what the predominant religious ethos may be. It does not matter what the ethnic make up of your community is or whether or not you live in an area of affluence or destitution. No matter what the situation, somewhere in your community’s schools or social groups, someone is being hazed.
According to stophazing.org, a website committed to staunching the flow of hazing in our nation’s schools, hazing is defined as: “Any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”
An often-cited source for information on hazing is a landmark study conducted in 1999 by Alfred University (NY) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in response to a hazing incident that occurred on their own campus. According to the study, 80% of all college athletes had been subjected to some form of hazing. Despite the study, which candidly illustrated the rise of unsavory acts of hazing, the number of incidents continues to rise and the severity of the cases is astounding.
In its earliest iterations, hazing was and is still typically conducted by upperclassmen on incoming freshmen and was considered a rite of passage. Often it was a way to induct underclassmen into a fraternity, a social group, a gang or sports team. In its earlier forms, the practice was usually a harmless prank or comical activities that were performed to encourage camaraderie at the expense of the newly initiated teammate(s).
Sadly, the years have not been kind to the practice that today is still glossed over by many in the high school, collegiate and professional ranks as boys being boys or girls being girls for the sake of the team or club. Hazing is a depraving, vulgar and despicable practice that is degrading, demeaning, shameful and completely appalling.
Greek systems in colleges and universities have, for the most part, condemned hazing, going as far as amending charters to include clause that specifically address hazing of any form. In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s the sororities and fraternities suffered continuous criticism from colleges and universities and their communities because of excessive drinking and raucous parties but also from allegations of inappropriate conduct when inducting new members or “pledges” into the system. Hazing the in the Greek system included forcible behaviors against pledges that ran the gambit. From carrying books and shining shoes to participating in vile acts of a sexual nature.
The Greek system does not own the patent on hazing. Gangs have their own form of initiation that is equally despicable. New members undergo a ritualistic beating that gangs refer to as “getting jumped in.”
Hazing is now more commonly associated with high school, college and professional locker rooms where hazing is unfortunately tolerated by most, suffered by a select few. Some coaches and administrators are aware of hazing on or around their campuses but turn a blind eye to the problem because, “that’s the way it has always been.”
The Alfred study indicates that most students who participate in hazing do it because it is “fun and exciting.” Oftentimes the students who take part in hazing have gone through the same hazing in the past. Hiding behind the auspices of tradition is a common excuse and many students who were polled (44%) said they did it because it brought them closer as a group. Well if duct taping a nude freshman to a pole and spraying him with water on a 30-degree night brings us closer, why isn’t that a part of our student curriculum on our first day of kindergarten? Let’s shave everyone from head to toe on their first day of junior high and make them do push-up’s in a tub full of aftershave.
It doesn’t make sense does it? So why is there such an intense craving by students to humiliate and demean other students? Why do grown men in the professional ranks accept hazing even when it is more demoralizing rather than bonding?
The answer is quite simple in my mind having witnessed firsthand the emotional and residual effects of hazing. It is all a matter of control. It is the age-old belief that by humiliating and stripping another individual of their urbane rights to establish a dominant position. It is a forcible manipulation, an imposing of one’s will upon another to gain an advantage that is perverse, evil and egocentric.
In the recent Utah case, two thugs held down a fellow teammate while a third hooligan performed a sexual act known in degenerate circles as “tea bagging”. Call it what it really is: sick, nefarious and immoral. The three students have since been expelled from the school and are being held in a juvenile detention facility.
It’s not surprising that the consequences reported by students in the Alfred study who had been hazed included getting into fights (24%), did poorly in schoolwork (21%), hurt someone else (20%) and considered suicide (15%). What is surprising is the fact that some students actually reported some positive consequences such as gaining valuable life experiences or had fun while being hazed confirming the notion that for some, hazing is just part of life.
Social gatherings, community and sporting events, universities and schools should be havens for safety. Unfortunately, in many cases the behaviors of a few who are inadequately equipped with social skills ruin the experience for many. Hazing is an unsettling reality for many unsuspecting and vulnerable young students. To combat this social, ill laws can be proposed and passed and strict rules can be enforced in schools but the best way to battle hazing on an individual basis is by taking an impassive stance against hazing and educating others to its mentally and emotionally corrosive effects.
Everyone has an opinion on hazing. Some are proponents; others are in opposition of the practice. Regardless of your position on hazing there is no doubt that it is emotionally charged and a subject of widespread debate.
Read the Alfred University study on hazing and help stop hazing in your communities.