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Bloomington North (Ind.) HS Hazing Interview with Hank Nuwer

Thanks to interviewer Sophie. She asked great questions.

By Sophie Harris

SH: More and more kids are being bul­lied at North. Could these behav­iors trans­late into more dan­ger­ous things along the road, like hazing?

HN: The idea of high school behav­iors being repli­cated in col­lege wor­ries me. In high school, actions are not always pun­ished and admin­is­tra­tors try and take things into their own hands. In one of my books, “The Haz­ing Reader,” a vic­tim of a haz­ing crime who almost died came from Bloom­ing­ton North. He was at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina.

SH: How many books have you writ­ten? What are they about?

HN:  I’ve writ­ten 25 books, and four are about haz­ing. I have a fifth book com­ing out in a few months. I started writ­ing about haz­ing for the Human Behav­ior mag­a­zine, a national mag­a­zine study­ing behav­ior and psy­chol­ogy. When writ­ing about it, I won­dered why the bystanders just walked by. I did inter­views with lots of experts, and it seemed that haz­ers never did their haz­ing rit­u­als one-on-one. Now it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, with cyber­bul­ly­ing. Cyber­bul­ly­ing is tech­ni­cally one-on-one, through phones and face­book, but it’s got the group men­tal­ity of haz­ing because peo­ple share it with their friends.

SH: Why is it so impor­tant that we put a stop to bul­ly­ing, both in high school and college?

HN:  Hazing’s main dan­ger is alco­hol. 82% of hazing-related deaths are caused by alco­hol. Cyber­bul­ly­ing can be very dan­ger­ous because its main goal is to exclude. Preda­tors want to find your weak­ness, your inse­cu­rity, and harp on your ori­en­ta­tion or ‘lack of cool­ness,’ and ham­mer that home. There was a haz­ing case where the haz­ers wanted a pledge to drink from a bot­tle and put a gun to his head. But what they didn’t know what that this boy’s father killed him­self that way.

SH: How can bul­ly­ing in high school lead to haz­ing in college?

HN:  Bul­ly­ing in high school makes a per­son jaded. Bul­ly­ing is haz­ing. If they’ve got­ten away with bul­ly­ing in high school, it makes them think they can get away with it in col­lege. It gets out of hand. At the high school level, haz­ing is worse than ever. Haz­ing began in about the 1980’s. At the col­lege level there is much more aware­ness, and col­leges are crack­ing down on it. For the first time since 1970, in 2010 there were no haz­ing related deaths in America.

SH: What is the best advice you could give to some­one being bul­lied or hazed?

HN:  Find peo­ple that object to it, just as you do. Band together with them. Find an admin­is­tra­tor that will lis­ten, and inform your par­ents, no mat­ter how embar­rass­ing the sit­u­a­tion is. Speak out! Take notes by the hour. By the minute. Don’t exag­ger­ate, don’t make any­thing up, and don’t break the law your­self. Some peo­ple fell that they can’t step in on haz­ing if it’s not in their group. That’s not true. You can. Things can get so out of con­trol. Adults can act in a stu­pid way, and they can be really bad exam­ples for high school stu­dents. Some­times, in high school, prin­ci­pals and admin­is­tra­tors are really bad at try­ing to con­tain it.

SH: How can you see bul­ly­ing and haz­ing stop­ping, or at least lessening?

HN:  It must be taught in a no-nonsense way from kinder­garten, or even ear­lier, on. Par­ents must get involved. Adults need to act like adults. It’s some kind of soci­etal prob­lem when adults don’t take respon­si­bil­ity and obey the law. There was once a case at an Indi­ana high school near Shel­byville. There was a sit­u­a­tion, but the school admin­is­tra­tors never let it go to the police. The police never fol­lowed up on the facts. If the facts are cor­rect, kids could end up with felonies on their records. When noth­ing hap­pens, it is uncon­scionable. School admin­is­tra­tors are not the police. They should not act like police. They need to call the police, and if noth­ing hap­pens then, par­ents should band together and demand justice.

SH: Is it hard to write about hazing?

HN:  Yes, it’s still not easy, talk­ing about the loss of a human life. I can’t tell you how many girl­friends and par­ents I’ve talked to after deaths. I can’t tell you how many 911 tapes I’ve heard. For most haz­ers, a death is either a wake up call, or they whine and blame it on the victim.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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