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Educational video on hazing gets play in New Mexico

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No charges have yet been filed since Los Lunas Schools announced in November that four seniors had been suspended from the Valencia High football team after an alleged hazing incident. However, the allegations did set a number of changes into motion, including a hazing awareness campaign.

The district is now having athletes and others watch a 20-minute DVD that explains different types of hazing, and why such conduct is destructive. “Break the Tradition or Break the Law” is a product of Allegro Media and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

New Mexico is among six states that still do not have any specific anti-hazing legislation on the books. The others are Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Hawaii and Wyoming. Hazing cases that have been prosecuted in New Mexico, including one involving Robertson High football players, have been based on charges of other crimes on the books, such as assault.

The “Break the Tradition” video features testimonials from students, athletic directors, a retired Wisconsin superintendent, and parents. An interview with parents of a hazing victim who met with tragedy uses powerful emotions to convince viewers hazing can have grave consequences.

A narrator defines hazing early in the 20-minute video:

“Hazing is an activity expected of someone joining a group, an activity that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers a person, regardless of the willingness of all parties to participate.”

High-school-age students narrate descriptions of the three hazing types: subtle, harassment, violent.

Hank Nuwer is a professor at Indiana’s Franklin College and an author on the subject of hazing since the 1970s. He got a master’s degree from New Mexico Highlands University in the early 1970s, and since Robertson is practically next door to NMHU, the hazing saga there hit home for Nuwer.

He’s listed under the acknowledgement credits at the end of “Break the Tradition.”

“The basic argument in states that don’t have hazing laws is that other laws already cover it,” said Nuwer. “I don’t buy that. Not if you see how the nation has a history of hazing at high schools and colleges, and how it can escalate from small stuff to something fatal.”

Nuwer points out the reluctance of government agencies to prosecute hazing cases, sometimes with a potential sexual-offender registration or label at stake. If there were a hazing law in these states, then specific, less-stigmatizing charges could be filed.

Nuwer said an important target audience of anti-hazing media are the bystanders — not hazing perpetrators or victims, but those who witness it and don’t discourage or report it. “Some of the kids, victims or perpetrators, you’re not going to reach them with a video,” said Nuwer. “It’s the bystanders that we need to reach — the ones who can take action to prevent hazing.” Nuwer said he’s learned a great deal about the Robertson case, which has resulted in massive faculty changes at RHS and several plea-bargain sentences. He said he hasn’t read much about the Valencia High case yet.

He said universities have started to get the message about hazing, as there has been at least one hazing-related college death each year since 1970. Fraternities and sororities, some of the biggest hazing culprits in the past, now have active roles in the solution.

However, high schools have been slower to get the message, Nuwer said.

“We haven’t done a good job, nationwide, in educating the educators,” Nuwer said. “Too often, school personnel are trying to investigate and clear all the faculty themselves, instead of getting the real police involved.”

One educator who spoke during the video said hazing awareness is partly about communication.

“In a high percentage of hazing cases across the country, coaches were actually aware that those hazing activities were occurring,” says Lee Green, a professor of business and sport law at a Kansas university. “It’s incumbent upon athletic directors to monitor coaches very carefully. There’s the assumption that 99.9 percent of coaches are great people, but there’s that 1-in-100 coach, old-school, doesn’t really feel like there’s anything wrong with these inappropriate activities, doesn’t fracture the entire school athletic community.”

Nuwer said the education aspect of hazing awareness doesn’t focus on weeding out so-called bad apples, or destructive, dysfunctional students before crimes can be committed by them. He said it’s more about discouraging the behavior.

“It’s not about the character of any one kid,” said Nuwer. “We have no problem punishing kids for a gang-member initiation. We need to see hazing itself as a problem — not the kids.”

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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