Hazing News

Attorney argues in defense of hazing

Moderator:  I intended this blog to include people of all opinions.  This is one I do not agree with, but let the/you readers decide, as we journalists say.


Here is the excerpt:

As an experienced criminal trial lawyer who specializes in defending against murder and other serious charges, I can unequivocally state that the district magistrate did the right thing by dismissing the most serious charges and did the wrong thing by not dismissing every charge. Pennsylvania’s criminal law system, like every other state’s, requires “mens rea” or at least “recklessness” before anyone can be convicted of any crime.

 “Mens rea” simply means criminal intent and “recklessness” simply means extreme negligence. But undergraduate fraternity and sorority members are collegians who clearly didn’t go to an institution of higher education with a plan to kill or maim people or with a plan to be wantonly indifferent about conditions that could cause death or serious injury.

As an experienced and longtime fraternity member who has served as a dean of pledges and a chapter president, I’m going to say something quite controversial. But before I say it, I want the readers to clearly understand that I am speaking for myself only and in no way whatsoever for my fraternity or for any other fraternity or any sorority— each of which, especially mine, has a strict no hazing policy. Accordingly, I’m not directly, not indirectly, not officially, and not unofficially speaking for my frat. I’m just speaking for myself.

So here we go: Hazing is a good thing. There. I said it. And before people start yelling at me, allow me to explain why I said that..

First, I must explain what hazing is. In terms of etymology, a scholarly linguistic publication known as the Collection of College Words and Customs traced the word to Harvard University where, in 1848, it was a term used to “express the treatment that freshmen sometimes received from upperclassmen.” And that word stemmed from the 1670s word “hawze,” meaning to “confound or frighten,” which, in turn, stemmed from the 1450s French word “haser,” meaning to “irritate or annoy.” And modern dictionaries describe hazing as “rough treatment.”

But regardless of whether it’s confounding treatment, frightening treatment, irritating treatment, annoying treatment, rough treatment, or just plain mistreatment, it’s both voluntary and necessary.

It’s voluntary because no one forces you to subject yourself to it. In other words, you can quit anytime. And it’s necessary just like tradition in any organizations is necessary. In other words, if the elders/old schoolers of an organization went through standard (non-life-threatening) hardships to join that organization, shouldn’t you want to go through what they went through? Wouldn’t you feel like a fraud if you slipped in easily? Wouldn’t you be viewed by legitimate members as a “skater?”

There’s a meaning behind “No pain, no gain.” There’s a meaning behind “No cross, no crown.” In fact, in 2001, Dr. Robert Cialdini, a renowned psychologist and professor, cited a study from 1959 wherein researchers discovered that “persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.” Makes sense to me.

Is it always wrong for a parent to yell at a child? No, it’s obviously not. So why do many people consider it always wrong to yell at an approximately 20-something-year-old to get him/her to improve in whatever it takes to become a member of an organization, especially since he/she volunteered to join that organization and wasn’t drafted into it? Is it always wrong for a parent to spank a child? No, it’s obviously not. So why do many people consider it always wrong to subject an approximately 20-something-year-old to roughhousing and horseplay to get him/her to improve in whatever it takes to become a member of an organization, especially since he/she volunteered to join that organization and wasn’t drafted into it?

Does this mean I advocate verbal and physical abuse? Of course not. Clearly, there must be limits. There must be prohibitions against saying things that cause emotional trauma and doing things that cause serious or protracted injury.

That’s for the purpose of protecting the potential initiate. And the organization needs protection, too- but not from trauma or injury. It needs protection from civil and criminal liability. That’s why all potential initiates should consent to a legally binding waiver of all claims for unintentional harm just like patrons on roller coasters do when they enter amusement parks. Those potential initiates should also sign a legally binding nondisclosure agreement for the purpose of promoting confidentiality and avoiding childish tattle-telling, i.e., cowardly snitching.

By the way, that waiver and agreement must include the following language: “Consistent with Pennsylvania’s Hazing Statute- Volume 24, Section 5352, this organization hereby states that no action that intentionally or recklessly endangers the mental or physical welfare of a potential initiate will be tolerated. However, the potential initiate will decide either to participate in the organization’s traditions or to voluntarily withdraw himself/herself from them without any duress whatsoever from the organization.”

For the record, if you ask me if I was ever hazed when I pledged, I would say no — even if I was. And that’s because “Those who know, don’t say. And those who say, don’t know.”

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1-FM.And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.


By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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