The Controversy over Hazing on Campus

The Controversy over Hazing on Campus

A 26-year-old drum major in a marching band known for combining technical brilliance with inno- vative showmanship dies of hemorrhagic shock from being punched repeatedly during an initiation ritual. Because the marching band has a reputation for tol- erating physical hazing, the board of trustees puts the band’s leader on administrative leave and reprimands


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the college’s president. The ringleader of the brutal ritual is convicted of manslaughter and felony hazing. (Taylor, 2011; and Hightower, 2014)

Hazing is a widespread practice that can be part of the process for selecting and inducting new members into an exclusive, highly sought, and cohesive group. A contradiction surrounds hazing. On the one hand, administrators, professors, par- ents, alumni, law enforcement officials, and legisla- tors condemn it and try to suppress it. Hazing has been officially outlawed but continues to happen under the radar unless outrageous incidents make the news, triggering investigations and arrests, and ultimately lawsuits. On the other hand, these long- standing and widespread traditions are tolerated, perhaps accepted, sometimes defended, and even celebrated by undergraduates as an integral part of campus culture.

Hazing can be viewed as an expression of orga- nized and institutionalized bullying, a rite of passage in which existing members subject new members to a period of probation while they are socialized into the group’s mores—surely a necessary step to create group solidarity and maintain internal discipline. But in extreme cases, it can force would-be mem- bers to submit to conduct that can be dangerous and potentially illegal.

A nationwide survey of over 14,000 under- grads at more than 50 colleges and universities carried out in 2008 accentuated the negative, defining hazing as any activity imposed on some- one seeking to join a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers the pledge, regard- less of his or her willingness to participate. Using this broad definition, the survey established that hazing not only permeates varsity athletics as well as fraternities and sororities but is also practiced in other student organizations like marching bands and performing arts groups. Alcohol consumption, public humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts are common practices. More than half of all college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experienced hazing. Almost half of all respondents had already been through hazing by the time they entered their

freshman year. Most significantly, 9 out of 10 stu- dents who had been through hazing did not con- sider themselves to have been abused. Ninety-five percent did not report their experiences to college officials. But about one-quarter of all coaches, advisors, and alumni were aware of the hazing that went on in the activities they supervised (Allan and Madden, 2008).

Just like abused children are at greater risk of becoming abusive parents and violence-prone per- sons, students who endure severe hazing and then become full-fledged members may be inclined to inflict harsh punishments on newcomers. To break this vicious cycle, institutions of higher education adopt a punitive zero-tolerance approach that calls for expelling the ringleaders and suspending the entire chapter whenever incidents come to light. If serious injuries result, college administrators hand the case over to the criminal justice system and prepare their defense against lawsuits launched by distraught parents. Despite these efforts to suppress hazing first implemented decades ago, the problem seems merely to have been driven underground (see Gose, 1997). A victim-blaming perspective suggests that to discourage the persis- tence of this banned practice, students who volun- tarily and knowingly undergo hazing also should be subjected to disincentives such as having to attend counseling or perform community service (Taylor, 2011).

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