RITES AND WRONGS
Students pushing back against hazing and bullying
September 06, 2008
The Hamilton Spectator
(Sep 6, 2008)
This spring in a small city outside Edmonton, eight Grade 9 students told police they had been paddled as many as 30 times each with hockey sticks and cricket bats by a group of Grade 10 students.
Police in St. Albert charged 14 teenagers with a total of 28 counts of assault.
Two weeks ago in San Diego, on the eve of the first day of school, senior students at a private Christian college on the Pacific coast roused freshmen at 2 a.m., marched them to the ocean and ordered them to swim naked.
Some say the newcomers to Point Loma Nazarene University were slapped and one was urinated on along the way.
A dormitory director has since been fired, the university has apologized and it is still investigating with an eye to disciplining the students responsible.
This week in Hamilton, a Grade 9 student who apparently came to the aid of a classmate being hazed by a Grade 12 student at Delta Secondary School was stabbed on the first day of school.
The alleged attacker has been charged with aggravated assault.
The bad news in these and other incidents is that hazing is still alive — that young people are still being coerced and traumatized, physically and mentally.
The more hopeful news is that in all three cases, young people pushed back against group bullying that tries to justify itself as initiation, says a Canadian expert on violence and youth.
Hazing, the ritual humiliation of newcomers eager to fit into school, sports, military and social groups — especially teenaged boys and young men — is a dubious tradition dating back centuries, but one whose days may be numbered.
Initiations that involve coercion, degradation, physical abuse or forced consumption of alcohol or other substances cross the line to hurtful hazing, explained Debra Pepler, a York University psychologist and a scientific director of PREVNet, a national network promoting safe, healthy relationships for Canadian children and youth.
The most effective way to stop it, she said, is by immersing a community — in the case of a school, its faculty, staff, students and their parents — in a culture that rejects hazing, and following through with enforcement and clear communication.
Hazing often coincides with a period of brain development before self-control and good judgment are established, Pepler said. It is fuelled by group behaviour, the stress of transition and even one’s own experiences as a victim.
“The potential for severe aggression and violence is very high,” she said.
“All of these things can conspire to create a context that’s ripe for problems.”
Above all, she said, it’s about power.
“Hazing says that those who have the power get to use it aggressively. It’s a very extreme form of bullying,” she said. “Everybody needs to identify it and speak up.”
At McMaster, where a 1991 residence hazing left a student paralyzed from a broken neck, the university has repudiated hazing in all forms, said associate vice-president for student affairs Phil Wood.
“It’s just not acceptable,” he said. “It’s not part of our ethos here at McMaster. We’re all about inclusion. Not just diversity, but inclusion. You need to feel included, no matter what your distinction might be.”
A symbol of the university’s effort to eliminate hazing stands over the athletic fields on the north side of campus.
The Alpine Tower, a 15-metre rope climbing structure, was built in part to create constructive new traditions to replace degrading hazing rituals.
Now athletic and other teams bond and build trust by climbing, said outdoor recreation director Wayne Terryberry.
“The key thing we focus on is challenge by choice, where you accept the challenge. You’re not forced to do the challenge,” he said. “We want people to be proud to be on a team, as opposed to intimidated by the whole experience.”
Before building the tower in 2003, the university and its athletics department had both explicitly barred hazing — including severe sanctions — and made anti-hazing education an important part of coaching, said athletics director Therese Quigley.
The three-pronged approach of policy, education and alternatives appears to have been effective, she said, though only vigilance can keep hazing in check.
“It’s something you always have to manage,” she said. “You can never be totally confident it’s under control.”