Hazing is characterized by tests of loyalty for social group membership that can involve physical or emotional abuse of the candidates. Hazing has been reported in diverse social contexts, such as academic fraternities and sororities, sports teams, military and paramilitary forces, and street gangs. Research has shown that the methods of hazing vary among different social groups. Athletic groups (e.g., football teams) employ physical challenges (e.g., degrading positions and tasks, exposure to the elements, excessive physical activity) and physical abuse as their preferred hazing methods; these methods are extended in the physical endurance and abuse associated with military and gang initiations. In contrast, fraternities and sororities often employ violations of social rules and norms (e.g., wearing humiliating dress and attire, complete or partial nudity) as their preferred hazing methods. In particular, excessive alcohol consumption has been widely used in fraternity and sorority hazing and accounts for a significant proportion of hazing-related deaths.
Hazing has a dual purpose of promoting loyalty to a social group through shared hardship of the candidates and of reinforcing the established social structure within the social group. The procedures used to enforce hazing legitimize the positions earned by the group members within a social group. For example, a president of a fraternity has to take charge of recruiting new pledges and delegating the responsibilities of hazing the candidates to other fraternity members. Receiving group membership provides a justification for candidates’ efforts and the hardship they experienced during the hazing experience. Victims of hazing are often reluctant to report the physical or emotional abuse they suffer because of the shame involved in the experience or because they would forfeit membership in the social group by speaking out. Furthermore, the secretive nature of hazing leads to a lack of awareness of it by authority figures (e.g., college administrators, athletic coaches, police) who have the influence to disrupt hazing activities.
Some suggested methods to prevent hazing include using alternative group-building activities (e.g., fundraising, mentoring, communal field trips), clarification and strict enforcement of antihazing policies by authority figures, and providing an immediate and detailed investigation of any reports of hazing.
1. Hollmann, B. B. (2002). Hazing: Hidden campus crime. New Directions for Student Services, 99, 11–23.
2. Keating, C. F., Pomerantz, J., Pommer, S. D., Ritt, S. J. H., Miller, L. M., & McCormick, J. (2005). Going to college and unpacking hazing: A functional approach to decrypting initiation practices among undergraduates.
3. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, Practice, 9, 104–126.
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About 2,000 alcohol-related deaths occur each year among American college students. Alcohol or drug abuse is a factor in more than a half-million injuries each year — and also in sexual and other assaults, unsafe sex, poor academic performance and many other problems.
At Cornell, high-risk drinking and drug use are two to three times more prevalent among fraternity and sorority members than elsewhere in the student population. During the last 10 years, nearly 60 percent of fraternity and sorority chapters on our campus have been found responsible for activities that are considered hazing under the Cornell code of conduct.
Why would bright young people subject themselves to dangerous humiliation? Multiple factors are at play: the need of emerging adults to separate from family, forge their own identities and be accepted in a group; obedience to authority (in this case, older students); the ineffectiveness of laws and other constraints on group behavior; and organizational traditions that perpetuate hazardous activities.
Alcohol makes it easier for members to subject recruits to physical and mental abuse without feeling remorse and to excuse bad behavior on the grounds of intoxication. It provides a social lubricant, but it impairs the judgment of those being hazed and lowers their ability to resist.
Even more distressing, although 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing, the vast majority of them do not identify the events as hazing. Of those who do, 95 percent do not report the events to campus officials.
Doctors, nurses and other student-health professionals have tried to address high-risk drinking and hazing through individual counseling, a medical amnesty process that reduces barriers to calling for help in alcohol emergencies, and educational programs. But the problem has persisted.
There are signs of progress. Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth, has helped organize a multi-campus approach to identifying the most effective strategies against high-risk drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has established a college presidents’ advisory group to develop and share approaches to this problem.
There is a pressing need for better ways to bring students together in socially productive, enjoyable and memorable ways. At Cornell, acceptable alternatives to the pledge process must be completely free of personal degradation, disrespect or harassment in any form. One example is Sigma Phi Epsilon’s “Balanced Man Program,” which replaces the traditional pledging period with a continuing emphasis on community service and personal development.
We need to face the facts about the role of fraternities and sororities in hazing and high-risk drinking. Pledging — and the humiliation and bullying that go with it — can no longer be the price of entry.Continue reading the main story