College hazing has been around for decades, which is why it is such a difficult practice to get rid of. Long associated with fraternities, sororities and the Greek system in general, hazing has been a corrupted form of a rite of passage for candidates trying to get into such college social groups and general group acceptance. It has also been well-embedded in college sports, as an entry ticket into the closer team bond with the core team players of a sport in college.
Where hazing may be fondly remembered by older generations as exercises in stupidity and simple, embarrassing humiliation, modern cases have gone extremely over the line of anything acceptable. These have included instances of ingestion of risky material, performing activities with harmful effects to the participant, extreme humiliation, and even sexual assault or rape with a foreign object. No one fondly remembering their great “game” days or fraternity days is going to be caught agreeing that today’s form of hazing is acceptable by any form. Yet it still continues despite the greater attention, legal ramifications, and pressures of anti-hazing that have picked up in recent years.
The problem with hazing is that, as mentioned earlier, it has been such an accepted practice by informal social groups for so long. As a result, while extreme cases occur, most social groups in college or schools don’t see what they are doing as anything wrong. They wouldn’t consider doing any of the things that become so shocking until their own events grow gradually out of control over time, incorporating many of the same tactics to cause humiliation. In many cases, very severe hazing didn’t just start yesterday. It has been around for years, known by many, and kept as a secret institution by those who have participated and even themselves been victims of it earlier on. Those who then speak out are considered weak, undesirable and worse, traitors to a well-guarded secret practice.
Hazing also benefits from its secrecy. Those involved often deny any participation in such acts when put under official questioning. Yet everyone involved knows exactly what has occurred, has seen it, or been part of it.
Various Forms of Hazing
Hazing doesn’t have to be the media-attention grabbing headlines of sexual assault and drunken debauchery with humiliation. It can often be far more subtle demands of peer pressure and group control on those wanting to be part of special groups. These can include:
- Extreme Exercises – Candidates for sports are often pushed to extreme exercises and activities to show their worth. The teammembers before them accomplished the challenges, so the recruits have to as well, even if it means physical risk of injury in the process.
- Humiliation Tasks – Hazing doesn’t have to be one event. It can be a series of conditions where a victim has to perform a number of tasks that are humiliating, embarrassing, and at his own personal expense. The suffering is seen as a rite of passage to be accepted in the group.
- Conditional Terms – Mental hazing can often involve conditional acceptances to a group, where a victim has to give up freedoms or liberties to group members to attain group eligibility. This can be everything from personal property to “volunteered” participating in group activities that are clearly for the benefit of a few.
- Stupid Challenges – The hazing most people hear about usually involves some kind of dumb task that a rationale person would not participate in. This may be water overdosing, alcohol binging, embarrassing activities, self-harm, committing petty criminal acts without getting caught, or similar challenges. While movies like the famous 1970s movie “Animal House” make fun of these kinds of stunts, true challenge hazing can cause serious injury, arrests and even death.
- Beatings and Attacks – In some rare cases some campus social groups have adopted a gang approach of beating-in a candidate. This kind of hazing is extreme and illegal but it is hard to prosecute because the victim agreed to the situation. In essence, the victim agrees to be attacked by multiple group members at the same time, and he must physically fight them off for a period of time. In most cases the victim is pummeled to the ground by fists and kicking. This “jumping-in” is considered the roughest of hazing approaches and is an adopted form of hazing from Hollywood movies like “Colors” and gang mythology.
Because the particular method of hazing involved in a situation can vary so much, the real issue is stopping the practice in general. Trying to ban particular behavior or challenges is a bit like trying to swat a nest of ants with a toothbrush. You might get a few ants, but the majority just crawl up your arm and feet and start biting.
Hazing Prevention Steps
To stop hazing, schools and institutions need to make it so costly to the groups and organizations that practice hazing that they will no longer want to continue. This involves making hazing essentially a campus violation and crime subject to immediate expulsion when found and proved. Unfortunately, many generations have been in similar situations, so they often think such a response is extreme and unwarranted. In reality, hazing would see a significant cut back if everyone involved ran the risk of losing their ability to be in school at all if caught.
If a school management is not going to ban hazing with an extreme punishment, then it will need to be prepared to educate and point out that anyone participating in such acts can and will be turned over to law enforcement for potential prosecution. A school that continues to tolerate such behavior becomes criminally responsible for allowing hazing as well. If school administrators themselves don’t want to end up in jail, they have to engage in a clear and public message that violators will be reported.
Finally, after all the messaging, the school manager has to follow through. Many schools administrators and managers talk up a good show about prevention and education programs for anti-hazing. Yet when faced with the actual event, they will still try to cover it up and deal with the matter quietly. This is because the same administrators suffer from a conflict of interests. On the one hand, they should be reported incidents to the property authority, on the other hand they are responsible for maintaining attendance levels and keeping the school revenue flowing. Reporting negative behavior like hazing puts a reputational smear on a school that can drive away business. As a result, a number of administrators will shy away from a public response to the problem. This then emboldens hazing participants to continue their practice.
Local law enforcement has historically taken a mixed response to college hazing, but when cases grab the local media attention then they start to put more resources on cases. In many cases they defer to the college or university to deal with the matter before turning it into a criminal investigation. This unofficial agreement often influences the law enforcement reaction in many college towns where the local higher education institution is a major employer and economic base of the region. There is also an attitude that students get themselves into hazing situations voluntarily, which makes it hard for a police officer to go in and arrest anyone when nothing seems to meet the definition of a forced assault. So legally things sit until problems and harm get far, far worse.
For hazing to be eliminated from universities and colleges, it needs to be relabeled as an unacceptable behavior by society. Until that occurs, the practice will continue on teams and in social groups on campuses when people think that no authority figure is paying attention. By instead making the violation of hazing have a real and significant cost when caught, attitudes and behavior can be changed dramatically. No one wants to have on their academic record a note of being expelled for hazing. However, school administrators have to be willing to bite the bullet and proactively go after such cases with a severe and public penalty for it to be effective. While their fear is that parents won’t send their kids to schools with such incidents, in reality parents are likely to lean towards a school that shows it means business and won’t tolerate such behavior.