Student Hazing Rituals: Preventing Hazing on College Campuses
What is Hazing in a Frat or Other Student Organization?
Finding a clear hazing definition can be difficult. Schools and other organizations pin down the term with the goal of enforcing a ban on hazing, meaning the official definition of hazing is often targeted at the most malicious and dangerous hazing rituals.
HazingPrevention.org has a good general catchall, however. They define hazing as "harassment, abuse, or humiliation to initiate a person into a group."
Hazing happens in high school and adult organizations, but college hazing can be particularly life-threatening. You're on your own for the first time, you have easy access to alcohol, and let's face it, your judgment isn't always the best.
What is a Hazing Ritual?
A hazing ritual is when a certain kind of hazing becomes a tradition for a group, carried on year after year. Student hazing rituals often get more extreme over time as each senior class (or whoever's in charge) tries to one-up the previous generation.
Common hazing rituals are based around a power and respect differential between new and existing members. Hazing prevention programs often point out that even subtle and harmless college hazing sets up a dangerous dynamic of obedience and disrespect that can easily lead to toxic hazing activities.
You often see hazing rituals in fraternities and sororities because they're long-lived organizations based heavily on history and tradition. They're typically not built around a common interest like sports, hobbies, or professional organizations. Group cohesion is artificial, so in a frat or sorority, hazing activities become a key to bonding and building group identity.
Plus, Greek membership is somewhat arbitrary. Acceptance into a group isn't (usually) based on anything objective, and these days most institutions now have non-discrimination rules. As a result, fraternity and sorority hazing may be used as a way to exclude unwanted recruits. Scaring potential members off may cause things to escalate beyond safe boundaries.
What are Some Examples of Hazing?
Subtle or "harmless" hazing examples may include new members being responsible for all the chores, using honorifics and doing favors for older members, enforced togetherness, and having to perform pointless, difficult, or embarrassing tasks.
The next step in severity is student hazing rituals that are based heavily on harassment and abuse. Examples of hazing in this category are often similar to "harmless" hazing but taken to an extreme that causes undue stress and psychological harm. Chores and favors turn into personal servitude, embarrassing activities veer into true humiliation, and assigned tasks become illegal, risky, and disruptive to normal life. Yelling, screaming at, demeaning, or intimidating new recruits are common.
The most serious category of hazing is when things turn violent or harmful. Violent hazing examples often amount to physical abuse and psychological torture. Physically, this can range from pushing or shoving to padding and even cutting or branding. Other common hazing rituals include kidnapping, isolation, forced confinement, sleep deprivation, and forced exposure to negative stimuli like loud music or disgusting food. It's worth noting that these activities qualify as torture.
Many common hazing rituals at all levels of severity involve drinking (and overdrinking) alcohol. Alcohol consumption is novel to young people, and it loosens inhibitions. This can give the illusion of group bonding, but it also makes other unpleasant hazing rituals easier to participate in. Alcohol can also cause student hazing rituals to escalate by impairing the judgment of the students in charge.
One of the challenges in gathering information about hazing is that students tend to deny that hazing is taking place. One study found that 9 out of 10 students who admitted to experiencing specific hazing behaviors in college didn't consider themselves victims of hazing.
Researcher Dr. Susan Lipkins conducted a survey on fraternity and sorority hazing attitudes, though respondents rejected the hazing label in favor of "initiation." When she asked Greek members to identify the significant elements of an initiation rite, they included:
- Tolerating psychological stress (57%)
- Humiliation (31%)
- Extreme alcohol consumption (29%)
- Tolerating physical pain (29%)
- Usually involves paddles (25%)
A study of female NCAA athletes by Dr. Colleen McGlone found that:
- 50% of women in Division I reported hazing
- 40% said coaches knew about hazing (and 22% said a coach was involved)
- Over 20% reported alcohol-related hazing
- Over 20% admitted to "mental hazing"
- 10% were physically hazed
- 6-9% admitted to experiencing hazing with a sexual aspect, like harassment, assault, or simulated sex.
Deaths related to college hazing do seem to be escalating. There have been:
- At least one college hazing death every year since 1969
- Between 1838 and 1969, 54 college hazing deaths are documented (an average of 0.4 per year)
- Between 1969 and 2006, 56 college hazing deaths are documented (an average of 1.5 per year)
- Between 2007 and 2017, 40 college hazing deaths are documented (an average of 3.6 per year)
More than 4 in 5 hazing deaths involve alcohol. Sometimes the death is directly from alcohol poisoning. In other cases, impaired coordination or judgment contributes to an accidental or violent death.
Hazing Prevention Programs
In recent years, more organizations have been making serious hazing prevention efforts.
In fact, as of 2019, there are anti-hazing laws in 44 states. In 13 states, hazing becomes a felony when death or serious injury is involved.
Universities often have hazing prevention programs that are handled through the Office of Greek Life and their athletics organizations.
Even Greek organizations are getting on the anti-hazing bandwagon. Non-hazing fraternities and sororities are organizations that create anti-hazing policies. In other words, they list unacceptable activities and behaviors tied to internal sanctions.
Some frats have gotten rid of "pledging" altogether because they argue that putting members through an initiation period before they can earn full membership inevitably leads to hazing.
Since alcohol consumption is heavily linked to hazing – and especially to hazing deaths – one important but often overlooked aspect of a hazing prevention program is responsible alcohol training for college students.
As a successful provider of skill-based alcohol responsibility training, TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS) has a university course that gives students the information, skills, and strategies they need to understand safe alcohol consumption and prevent alcohol-related problems, on and off campus. Enroll today!