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The “Elephant Walk” is one of the many degrading and humiliating hazing rituals inflicted upon new or young college students enthusiastic about joining a fraternity. Becoming part of a brotherhood or a sports team is a top priority for students beginning their lives of independence. Wanting to belong, to become a part of a team, or forming comradeship is an important part of the transition into adulthood. Students will take part in hazing rituals such as the elephant walk to become a part of that fraternity.
The Elephant Walk:
The Urban dictionary (a website which allows its’ users to define terms in their own words) defines the elephant walk as this: Elephant Walk: “Often used for hazing where a group of guys form a straight line and grab the genitals of the guy in back of them with one hand and put their thumb in the rectum of the guy in front of them, then they walk in a circle. Should that circle be broken by one of the members, the thumb which is placed in the rectum of the person ahead of them then goes into their mouths” (Urban Dictionary). There are other variations of the elephant walk, however, this definitions pretty much entails all or part of the others.
These hazing rituals occur in colleges where pledges are encouraged, forced or coerced into doing unspeakable, demeaning, degrading acts. These acts can have long-term, harmful consequences, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.
Hazing and Bullying:
Hazing rituals are often dangerous, cruel, painful, and sometimes result in the death of students, or serious physical injury may occur; especially when there is alcohol involved. College hazing sometimes borders on the line of bullying as well. When “veteran” college students are able to control and empower themselves with hideous acts of cruelty and degradation of the “freshmen”, bullying tactics are used to allow these students to become part of the fraternity. Yelling, screaming, physical force, belittling, degrading, and using alcohol to weaken the will and taking control of those pledging are well documented means of hazing.
With bullying, it is about power and control, intentionally inflicting emotional and physical pain as a way to manipulate or force someone else’s will and generally continues over time, the person bullying wants to keep up that power and control.
Hazing is about power and control, however, not always with the intent to cause harm, rather, to build a bond between students and the fraternity pledges and is not continuous. Although some forms of hazing are deemed “aggressive”, unlike bullying, there may be no aggression.
The National Study of Student Hazing defines hazing as: “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate” (Allan & Madden, 2008).
Studies have shown that a large percentage of college students perceive hazing as a “Right of Passage”. Many students do not believe there is harm in the acts of hazing. They are however, not aware of the long-term effects of hazing or that hazing may also produce psychological trauma.
One student reported that he was re-traumatized after the elephant walk brought back memories of an earlier childhood sexual assault. These are severe implications of abuse by “fraternities” with no knowledge of the consequences they are inflicting on others.
Death by Hazing:
Hazing has been recorded as far back as the 1800s. Hank Nuwer cites in his article, “Hank Nuwer’s List of Deaths by Hazing”, that in an increasing number of hazing deaths or physical harm caused by hazing, there is alcohol use and abuse involved. Nuwer suggest there are clear indications which point to death related to hazing, yet, authorities, as well as school staff, and family members will deny it is real hazing; therefore, cases of death by hazing are not classified as “hazing” (Nuwer, 2014), therefore, our numbers may be well under-reported. To date Nuwer’s List includes 182 deaths by hazing.
Although hazing may occur within other organizations, college hazing rituals are by far the most prevalent. As an advocate to stop hazing, in (Nuwer, A Father’s Eulogy after Suicide of Marquise Braham of Penn State, Altoona, 2013), Mr. Nuwer posted the eulogy of a father who lost his son to suicide after the hazing of others by his son and hazing done to him, published in the media. Marquise’s father believes the guilt had overwhelmed his son and his conscious became too much for the young man to carry (Nuwer, A Father’s Eulogy after Suicide of Marquise Braham of Penn State, Altoona, 2013). Marquise Braham took his own life in March of 2014.
Marquise’s story is one of tragedy. The parents of this young man have lost their son in such a tragic way. This was to be the beginning of a new life for him, where his dreams, future and hopes were dependent upon his education and influence of the college he chose.
Although, there is an ongoing investigation into the matter, had others been aware of Marquise’s hazing, both, what he endured and what the others they were hazing endured, his tragic death may have been avoided. The effects of hazing in horrific ways, not only affects the person the hazing is being inflicted upon, but, can also affect the person causing the hazing or participating in it.
These are mean and cruel acts perpetuated on others and any person with a conscious will be bothered immensely by these acts committed. Especially if harm is brought to the person being hazed.
There are several reasons why colleges, families and institutions deny that acts of hazing occur on school campuses. The reputation of a college is at stake for every hazing incident brought to the public’s attention. There is also financial losses, to the institution and participants involved, as well as embarrassment to the families of the victims and perpetrators. No one wants to believe their child would be involved in such criminal acts, therefore, rather it be as an active participant or a victim of such cruelty, denying hazing makes it easier to accept.
There are 44 states which now have laws strictly forbidding hazing. Many colleges have also joined in with the fight to end hazing, which are punishable by expulsion, fines and in the case of physical harm or death, may include, both, fines and imprisonment.
Prevention of hazing:
One of the prevention methods for hazing which stands out is to continue making hazing illegal. A bill in the federal legislation is aiming to do just this. “Under a bill introduced in January by U.S Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, students convicted under state law of hazing would lose eligibility for federal grants and loans” (Glovin & Hechinger, 2014). However, this is only a small step.
We must first acknowledge that hazing is a problem that needs to be addressed at every level. Whether it is the many forms of hazing such as the elephant walk, paddling, water overdoses, sodomy or binge drinking to list a few, they do exist and many fraternities do so secretly as in years past.
Educate our children on the effects of hazing, short-term and long-term, of being hazed or the one doing the hazing. Also include education on the effects of alcohol and the detrimental side effects such as poor judgment.
Learn alternatives to hazing without doing so in such a cruel and inhumane way.
Colleges and institutions can take action by including expulsion of hazers in the policy and rules enrollment.
Open and honest communication with students pertaining to hazing. Students should be able to discuss with staff personnel, coaches, instructors, etc., without fear of retaliation or repercussions from fraternity members.