When asked “What is hazing?” some people may immediately recall the 1978 film “Animal House” starring John Belushi. Specifically, the scene where fraternity pledges are paddled. It’s known as the Animal House Stigma, and it’s still prevalent today. Are you being Hazed?
Delta Tau Chi pledges took part in a variety of activities from binge drinking and drug use to paddling. Such portrayals may be comedic on the silver screen, but real life hazing is nothing to laugh about and, in most cases, it can be downright dangerous.
Historically, hazing is defined as a series of actions taken by an organization or group to discipline its members and keep them in line. Hazing incidents, which are often considered ritualistic in nature, place participants in danger of physical, mental, and, in some cases, academic harm when performed in high school and college settings.
When you hear about hazing, it is usually associated with students. However, it is a misconception to believe academia is the only domain for hazing activities. It is not uncommon for it to take place on the job or even in the military.
For instance, chanting to keep time while marching is a common element of military life. However, in some instances, the chanting can be macabre and sadistic, according the article “The Military’s Hazing Hell” published by Salon.com.
Historically, the military was an institution dominated by men. That being said, many of the chants have been used to help transition male soldiers from civilian life to that of a soldier. In doing so, it’s verbal hazing when women alienated making the establishment of a cohesive unit difficult.
Similarly, incidents of hazing haven’t been confined to soldiers. In 2003 and 2004, prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison were physically and sexually hazed by military personnel.
Although many academic institutions state hazing is illegal on their campus, it’s still entirely possible hazing activities take place.
Depending on the group or organization, hazing is oftentimes considered a centuries’ old practice that is passed down through the generations. In most recent times, hazing incidents are frequently associated with college fraternity and sorority initiation and induction.
Depending on the situation or type of hazing taking place, many of these incidents are very uncomfortable for participants. According to insidehazing.com, the ritual may be:
Oddly enough, for those who are the initiates (also known as victims) the practice is a “rite of passage” and something all those who came before have undergone. Knowing the practices have been going on for so long can somehow make the activities seem more acceptable – no matter how sadistic or deplorable the activities are.
It’s not uncommon for those who undergo the hazing to be bound by a “code of silence.” What goes on behind closed doors often stays there. To speak out would be to break with “tradition” and, in some instances, may disqualify the individual from being a part of the group.
Embarrassment about injuries one sustains during a hazing incident is another reason many individuals choose to remain silent.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the dynamic between the group leaders and the individual is very similar to that between a domestic victim and his or her abuser. Speaking out to someone outside of the group could trigger retaliation, and that is something the individual can’t risk – especially if he or she is seeking to become a part of the group.
Hazing victims often show personality and behavioral changes following an “incident.” The individual who has been hazed may:
- Seem “out-of-sorts” to family and friends
- Isolate themselves
- Experience depression and/or mood swings
- Exhibit a disheveled appearance
No Consent, No Matter
During hazing, an individual’s consent to participate is irrelevant. What matters is the ritual or activity at hand and that those present engage in the activity regardless of how they feel about it. The point is to demonstrate their worthiness of being a part of such a selective group.
There are a number of situations that may qualify as a “hazing incident.”
Hazing is something that can take place anywhere. Frequently, such activities are carried out in areas conducive to secrecy that can accommodate a group.
According to the web site for the Dean of Students at Michigan State University, the standard hazing meaning states incidents may include one or a combination of several of the following:
- Assault or battery
- Physical injury
- Placing another individual at risk of mental or emotional harm and/or in physical danger
- Compromising another’s religious or moral values
- Forced consumption of any liquid or solid
Although hazing activities can be intense and questionable at best, according to the Office of the Dean of Students for Louisiana State University, when considering hazing meaning, there are three basic types.
Activities or behaviors intended to demonstrate one’s power over another that can be passed off as “harmless” are considered to be subtle. Verbal abuse, encouraging others to act foolish – such as wearing outrageous outfits, or assigning tasks (with the expectation they will be completed) that obviously require more time than the individual has to complete it would be considered forms of subtle hazing.
The next step up is harassment hazing. These are activities that have a significant emotional impact on the victim and may include the threat of (either real or perceived) harm or placing the individual in uncomfortable situations.
Lastly, there is violent hazing. Acts of violent hazing have the potential to cause a person significant emotional, psychological, or physical harm. Examples of violent hazing include paddling, burning, confinement, and drinking games that place the individual at risk for intoxication.
And though hazing may take place anytime, it is usually performed at certain times of the year, such as at the beginning of a school year. Recruitment for sorority and fraternity pledges during “rush week” – also commonly nicknamed “hell week” — generally begins in August through September and again in January and February when the spring semester begins.
At its core, hazing is a reckless activity that can become very dangerous for participants in the blink of an eye.
In recent years, “hazardous hazing” has become an unfortunately relevant term. It’s used to describe situations that spiral out of control very quickly and place hazing participants at significant risk for harm.
According to insidehazing.com, hazing statistics show hazing activities over the past decade have become much more violent and sexual than in the past. And technological advancements, including small digital recorders, smartphones, and social media, have only served to complicate the issue. Not only are victims humiliated, but their degradation is oftentimes recorded and shared amongst the group.
Who Does Hazing Hurt?
There are generally three parties affected by a hazardous hazing incident: the individuals who designed and implement the actions (perpetrators), the audience members who watch passively (bystanders), and individuals on the receiving end of the hazing activity (victims).
When additional parties are aware of hazing activities, they too, become implicated, such as supervisors and administrative officials who allow the group or organization to exist. Even the community in which the hazing takes place may be considered accountable if they neglect to report hazing activities.
It’s important to note that the effects these types of activities can easily result in acute and long-term trauma; in some cases, trauma symptoms may not manifest for several years.
Hazing: Warning Signs
There are often several red flags that will pop up to warn you when hazing activities are afoot.
Never ignore your instinct. If you feel something isn’t right, odds are your gut knows. Trust it.
Similarly, if you have witnessed activities that you didn’t agree with, but you’re already a member of the group, you may feel “stuck.” Feeling like you’re between a rock and a hard place is a sure sign something isn’t right.
Additional signs may include:
- Hearing stories of the organization’s/group’s “extreme” activities or ways
- Acts of aggression and intimidation on behalf of the group leaders toward initiates
By the Numbers: Hazing Statistics
Statistics associated with the prevalence and pervasiveness of hazing among high school and college-age students is something to pay attention to.
Here are a few high school and college hazing statistics offered by insidehazing.com:
- In a single academic year, 1.5 million high school students are hazed nationwide.
- Nearly a quarter of students experience their first hazing before age 13.
- Nearly half of high school students acknowledge participating in hazing activities. Of those, just over 25 percent admit to engaging in potentially illegal activities to join the group and 14 percent admit they were hazed.
- An estimated five percent of college students admit to being hazed.
- Nearly 50 percent of students admit having knowledge about hazing activities.
- An estimated 40 percent of students say a “coach or club leader” had knowledge of the hazing activities. Of that number, 22 percent claim the “coach or club leader” took an active role in the hazing.