By Preston Williams, Washington Post
Hank Nuwer, who has written four books about hazing, including “High School Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs,” has documented cases of hazing in sports, fraternities and sororities, the military, law enforcement and even cooking schools and choral groups. We spoke with the Indiana-based Nuwer on the phone.
Q Why does hazing exist in high school sports? Does it satisfy some sort of innate need for a rite of passage?
A It gives students a combination of things they’re looking for at that age: the need for a lark, the immersion in secrecy with their peers, a passage from liminal space where they went from not being a member of a group to becoming a member of a group, and then the fact there is a kind of . . . rite of passage associated with hazing and initiations in school that has kind of a romance to it.
Q What sort of atmosphere cultivates hazing?
A Students [who have been hazed] like the idea of being a year more mature and teaching precedence to the newcomers. Research has shown that liking for a group increases with the pressures and stresses associated with harder requirements for membership. You value it more. . . . There are cases where a coach will turn a blind eye and say, “Don’t take it too far.” When you tell me at 15 or 17 or 21, “Don’t take it too far,” I’ve got a green light. You’ve already been complicit. This is for sure: The danger areas are sports camps away, buses and locker rooms that are left without adults.
Q Do hazers have good, albeit misguided, intentions to build team unity, or is the intent solely to humiliate or make themselves feel better about the time they were hazed?
A It varies. Rationalization and justification would be common in groupthink situations. If you have gone through this yourself a year before, how can you tolerate yourself having had sexual abuse to your body or drinking to a point where you puked all over yourself unless you tell yourself there is a greater purpose and a tradition? So this must be a good experience that I went through. And so you have some dishonesty there that propels it forward