Hazing has become an important topic over the past decade or so. Parents, we might remember a time when hazing was just routine and was of very little consequence.
Maybe as a freshman on your school football team, you had to pack up all of the equipment after practice, or perhaps if you joined a fraternity or a sorority in college, you had to do cumbersome chores and silly tasks for leadership until you were finally initiated.
The act of hazing may not have always been such a serious topic. Most organizations that give newbies a hard time might be trying to make new members “pay dues” or simply become acclimated and familiar with a hierarchy. But the definition of hazing has since changed dramatically.
Hazing has become a borderline inhumane practice that is far too similar to actual bullying. There have been many examples where hazing that was considered harmless has resulted in terrible outcomes such has injury or even death.
The National Federation of High School Associates (NFHS) defines hazing as the following: any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of a student to belong to a group, regardless of their willingness to participate.
The NFHS goes on to list acts that can be construed as hazing. The list includes:
- physical punishment (often in the form of paddling or “red-bellying”
- consuming harmful or unsuitable beverages or food
- being deprived of personal hygiene
Bullying vs. Hazing
What makes hazing a complex issue is that it’s often interchanged with bullying, and while the two are very similar, they are differences.
Hazingprevention.org does a really superb job at separating the two with the following:
The DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAZING AND BULLYING is subtle, which is why they’re often used interchangeably. The same power dynamics are involved. The same intimidation tactics are used. The same second-class citizenship issues arise. The only real difference between hazing and bullying is that bullying usually involves singling out an individual at any time and bullying them as a means to exclude them. Hazing, on the other hand, involves including people by having them “earn” their way into a group or onto a team. Bullying is about exclusion. Hazing is about inclusion.
This is a pivotal component of hazing that makes it even more alarming. People being hazed are often participating on their own free will. Sometimes, the participant may even know what to expect. For example, if there’s hazing involved in a high school sports, a “ritual” might be handed down from class to class, with incoming freshmen being fully aware of what to expect.
While bullying is just as detestable, bullies are easy to identify. Someone being bullied will often times ask for help, hoping to nullify the behavior of the bully. But hazing demands acceptance, which makes its prevention exponentially more difficult.
Alfred University conducted a national study among 60,000 collegiate athletes that produced the following shocking results:
- 79 percent of responding students said they have been hazed (255,637 athletes nationally)
- 60 percent of responding students said they would not report the hazing
- 48 percent of those same student said they would not report the hazing because “accidents sometimes happen,” and that “it’s not a problem”
The University of Maine also produced a survey encompassing 100,000 collegiate students that echoes similar concerns, but this was relegated to all college students, not just athletes:
- More than 50 percent of students surveyed claimed to have experienced hazing as part of a club, team or organization
- 47 percent of students experienced hazing before coming to college
- Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep- deprivation, and sex acts are common hazing practices
The surveys illustrate an unfortunate trend in America today and emphasizes the fact that many will willingly participate in hazing and say nothing. Furthermore, it illustrates the significant amount of hazing occurring nationwide that isn’t being reported by anyone.
The following are some recent real-life examples detailing the enormous consequences of abuse rituals:
The Baruch College Incident
There was a saddening incident that involved hazing, which actually resulted in the death of a college student. ABC News reported the death of a Baruch College freshman at the hands of nearly 30 fraternity brothers. According to the report, the fraternity in question was practicing a hazing ritual known as “glass ceiling.” This particular freshman was forced to walk blind-folded carrying pounds of sand in a backpack. As he walked, he was allegedly routinely shoved, hit, and knocked over. He fatally fell, hit his head and tragically passed away within hours.
The 30-or-so members in attendance are now being sought for possible homicide charges.
In what might be perhaps the most recent famous example of hazing, this nasty incident happening among grown adults and professional football players. It’s no secret the rookies of the NFL are often singled out and asked to do things for the more senior players. But few had any idea the extent that this went.
Richard Incognito, a large white offensive lineman used various racial and hateful remarks to fellow offensive linemen rookie Jonathan Martin. Many remarks were aimed at Martin’s skin color. The world was given a first-hand account of what Martin had to endure when Incognito’s voicemail to Martin was released.
The incident brought a lot of terrible tendencies to light. The behavior doesn’t just start at the NFL. This kind of behavior has roots. What bothers many people about the incident was the refusal of any players or coaches who happened to know what was happening to act. But when you’ve been acclimated to something for so long, it can be desensitizing.
Not that it’s an excuse. Just a possible reason why those witnessing a haze might do nothing to stop it.
If you or your child are aware of hazing, it is vital that an administrator is notified, whether it be a teacher, principal, coach, volunteer — whoever is in charge should be notified immediately. This is important not only for the victims suffering the hazing, but for future victims who will more than likely participate in the same shameful actions.
It is very possible that your child might be hesitant to tell an administrator. While he may confide in you and bring the incident to your attention, your child may ask that you not say or do anything, for fear of being labeled a “snitch,” at school.
Do not let this deter you. It is important that you explain to your child the importance of putting an end to this practice as soon as possible. Even if he or she is mad at you now, they’ll one day appreciate the action you take when they’re old enough to understand the severity of hazing.
The key to prevention is good policy. And good policy, in relation to hazing, demands a zero-tolerance approach. Whether it’s in a classroom or a sports team, it must be made explicitly clear that any hazing of any kinds will be grounds for acute disciplinary action. Showing students or players how serious the repercussions of hazing are might be enough to demonstrate just how serious the act itself really is.
The following are steps that prevent and ultimately mitigate hazing:
- Education – Only by informing parents, teachers, coaches or players about the occurrence of hazing, whether it’s actively happening or not, will everyone involved understand its severity and how to identify it.
- Policy – Ensure a strict anti-hazing policy is implemented, either in an athletic code or a student handbook. Make sure that consequences of these actions are defined in print so that there is no misunderstanding when it’s time to take action.
- Accountability – It is vital that teachers and coaches be held accountable for what happens in their classrooms or under their general supervision. There is simply no excuse, not even ignorance. Accountability will ensure that aforementioned strict policy will be enforced.
- Attention – Any rumor of hazing, even if made in a passing joke, must be interrogated. It is almost negligent to dismiss a rumor or a joke about hazing.
- Positive Ritual – Remember, hazing is primarily about acceptance or inclusion into something. So try to instill something fun and positive as a means of initiation. A group activity or a team-building exercise are perfect for breaking the ice and establishing positive relationships going forward.