Where once it was perhaps thought of as an innocent bonding ritual within fraternities or sports teams, hazing is now recognized as a serious issue that can potentially harm or even kill. On college campuses, hazing can happen in fraternities, sororities, clubs and sports teams, and well as military ROTC programs.
Hank Nuwer, a leading researcher on hazing, works with a concise definition of hazing in his book Wrongs of Passage:
“Hazing is an activity that a high-status member orders other members to engage in or suggests that they engage in that in some way humbles a newcomer who lacks the power to resist because he or she wants to gain admission to a group. Hazing can be noncriminal, but it is nearly always against the rules of an institution, team or Greek group. It can be criminal, which means that a state statute has been violated. This usually occurs when a pledging-related activity results in gross physical injury or death.”
Currently, 44 states have hazing laws. Colleges and universities can play a critical role in ending hazing on campus. Just as with other crimes, engaging bystanders and assuring that they know how to recognize the problem and adequately respond can help reduce hazing.
Many students believe that hazing is the only way for the group to bond and for new members to “achieve” membership in the organization. Understanding this, it is important for universities to educate students and pledges on alternatives to hazing that help promote group cohesiveness while not harming or humiliating new members.
Some organizations have outdoor activities like a high-rope course, which encourages members to work together while challenging them physically and mentally. Others might have camping or rafting trips or historical trivia of the organization or school. Connecting with alumni and other networking events, along with community services activities can also foster healthy bonding within the group.
Schools need to have a clearly stated policy against hazing, including consequences for failing to abide by policy. Students should be able to access this information easily and be educated on it from their start at the school. Groups or teams should be sufficiently monitored, and the group advisors or coaches should go through training on recognizing and responding to hazing.
Melissa Lucchesi is the outreach education coordinator and lead victim advocate at Security On Campus Inc. (SOC). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.