Every year, college students are injured or killed during events associated with hazing. Often, violence, heavy drinking and humiliation are part of the rituals students endure to gain acceptance into a popular group on campus. At times, sleep deprivation, nudity and sex acts also are involved. While college hazing is most commonly associated with fraternities and sororities, other organizations participate as well, including sports teams and marching bands. While many states have made hazing a crime, only some have made it a felony. In 2012, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson introduced legislation that would have made the activity a federal offense. But that effort was unsuccessful. Colleges and universities nationwide prohibit hazing but struggle to prevent it even after launching numerous programs over the years to urge students to avoid such activities and report them.
It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of college hazing because no organization formally tracks it. Higher education institutions generally do not monitor hazing incidents or allegations. And hazing is not one of the student offenses that colleges must report to the U.S. Department of Education under the federal Clery Act, formally known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Some individuals informally monitor hazing-related deaths. For example, Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor in Indiana who writes about hazing, keeps a running tally of published accounts of hazing deathson his website.
Hazing is an issue that journalists on the education and crime beats cover quite often, especially if they work near large universities. It’s a topic of intense interest to parents and educators and one that requires considerable time to cover well. A reporter could be writing about a single hazing incident for a year or longer because a death or serious injury often prompts multiple investigations, lawsuits and new anti-hazing initiatives. Breaking news about hazing happens year-round. In December 2017, a sorority at the College of William & Mary and a fraternity at the University of Southern Indiana were suspended for hazing. Meanwhile, the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity was indicted on a hazing charge after a pledge at the University of Houston was body slammed and suffered a lacerated spleen. A total of four fraternity pledges died in 2017.
As journalists explore the issue from various angles, this selection of academic research and other reports will help inform their coverage.
Abstract: “This study reports the prevalence of bullying victimization at school and work among college freshmen and the relationships between victimization and changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol problems. Web survey data at two time points from a sample of 2,118 freshmen from eight colleges and universities in the midwestern United States indicated that 43 percent of students experienced bullying at school and that 33 percent of students experienced bullying at work. Bullying, particularly at school, consistently predicted alcohol consumption and problematic drinking, after controlling for baseline drinking and other school and work stressors.”
Summary: This law review article examines hazing among Asian American fraternities, the history of Asian American fraternities and the social concept of masculinity among Asian men. “Within Asian American fraternities, among those cultural factors are notions of masculinity and how they were reared and disciplined by their parents. These factors may engender hyper-masculine conduct, namely violence, and be directed at those whom Asian American fraternity men exert authority over, pledges, because of displaced aggression. These points may provide helpful points of intervention within Asian American fraternities that might help curtail hazing within these groups.”
Summary: “In this article, the authors theorize that legally consequential behavior is influenced by race and sex. Specifically, this article contends that hazing, as a form of legally consequential behavior, manifests itself quite differently within BGLOs [Black Greek Letter Organizations] than within their white counterpart organizations. Specifically, this article finds that hazing in Black fraternities is more physically violent. The authors contend that prevailing and yet provincial notions of Black masculinity in the United States underscore the violent nature of Black fraternity hazing.”
Findings: “Despite increased attention to its dangers, hazing remains pervasive throughout the sports world. However, many do not recognize those actions as consistent with hazing. A change in culture, increased education and awareness, along with methodologically sound strategies for action must occur in order to reduce the ill effects and cycle of hazing. To date, current information and efforts are lacking.”
Summary: This study examines outdoor-based and adventure education-based orientation as an alternative to traditional forms of orientation for sports teams. The study “highlights some of the promising possibilities for creating new welcoming traditions for collegiate athletic teams.”
Abstract: “In this longitudinal ethnographic research, we report on seven years of hazing rituals on two separate men’s sports teams at one university in the United Kingdom. Using 38 in-depth interviews alongside naturalistic observations of the initiation rituals, we demonstrate that hazing activities have changed from being centered around homophobic same-sex activities to focusing on extreme levels of alcohol consumption. We show that whereas same-sex activities once occurred paradoxically to prohibit them, today these initiations open up the possibility of same-sex behaviors for young men in the life stage of emergent adulthood.”
Abstract: “In recent years, the pervasive practice of student initiation ceremonies into university sports teams has become widely reported in the British media. Such initiations have been likened to the practice known as hazing, which is prevalent in universities across the U.S.A. Although there is some research that has considered how and why hazing occurs in American universities, less attention has been paid to the initiation ceremonies that regularly occur in British institutions. This article provides an overview of some of the literature that has examined the practice of hazing in the U.S.A. in order to set the scene for much needed research in the U.K.”
Summary:“Initiation activities have long been part of U.S. military culture as a way to mark significant transitions, status changes, and group membership. However, along with these activities have often come acts of hazing, in which individuals were subjected to abusive and harmful treatment that went beyond sanctioned ceremonies. In recent years, extreme cases of alleged hazing have led to the high-profile deaths of several service members, resulting in renewed interest from the public and Congress in seeing these hazing rituals eliminated from military culture … In this report, we address ways to improve the armed forces’ definition of hazing, the effects of and motivations for hazing, how the armed forces can prevent and respond to hazing, and how the armed forces can improve the tracking of hazing incidents.”