The Perils of Hazing: a Few Thoughts on Forty Years of Writing about Hazing by Hank Nuwer
Revising yet another volume on hazing has been a challenging undertaking made all the more fulfilling for me as I worked with this book’s team of Indiana University Press editors and contributors that include the nation’s best-known academics on hazing, hazing legal experts, Greek and student affairs professionals, and antihazing activists. A new volume dedicated to hazing research and prevention was necessary because hazing behaviors themselves have changed so dramatically in the last decade.
Having written about hazing ever since 1978 with an investigative journalism piece back then on hazing deaths for Human Behavior, I have watched attitudes toward the practice change with the times. In 1978 academics scoffed at the idea that hazing behaviors and practices were a matter of worthwhile academic research. This was part of a long-standing pattern. Back then, even more so than today, faculty, staff, and administrators turned their heads away from hazing humiliations and tragedies. One need only look at campus yearbooks through the first three quarters of the twentieth century to see hazing treated by students as a lark instead of as a degrading, and occasionally dangerous, affront to civility.
At present a generation of new scholars is completing graduate theses and dissertations on hazing in numbers unheard of back in 1978. During the Jimmy Carter administration, quality hazing scholarship predominately existed in abnormal psychology journals, but today it is an expertise, even a passion, for researchers in gender studies, minority studies, law enforcement, folklore, education, psychology, behavior studies, sociology, literary journalism, and on and on. Buffalo State College’s Butler Library Special Collections decision to create the Hazing Collection, stocked with scholarly works in part by me, offers a sanctuary for visiting researchers intent on finding new ways to counter hazing around the world. What has changed is that some of the most demeaning hazing incidents now occur in sports teams, particularly at the secondary-school level. While collegiate deaths from hazing in the United States are as common today as they were forty to forty-eight years ago, there now occur similar tragic losses worldwide, particularly in the Philippines and India.
Back in 1978, there existed one antihazing organization; today several well-known organizations and untold thousands of people battle hazing all year and many, many thousands more observe National Hazing Prevention Week. HazingPrevention.org, StopHazing.org, the Clery Center for Security on Campus, the AHA! (Antihazing) Movement, 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, and smaller antihazing groups dedicate resources and time to eradicating hazing. What has changed is that researchers and reporters have made the public aware that hazing happens, not just in fraternities and the military, but in bands, sports teams, occupations, honor societies, church groups, camps, and even professional and honor societies. Hazing has become what I called on National Public Radio an “equal opportunity disgrace,” prevalent among whites, blacks, Asians, and brown-skinned people.
What has not changed is that despite full awareness, Greek hazing continues to be an odious form of abuse—a type that I call “domestic abuse” because it occurs in a fraternity or sorority house. Such cult-like abuse targets pledges and associate members without status of full membership that live in a single chapter household. What has not changed is that the deaths from hazing have continued unabated. There now has been one death every year (and many years multiple deaths) in our colleges from hazing in the 1961–2017 time frame, according to the verifiable statistics I keep. These continuing deaths, but also less-publicized indignities and scurrilous conduct during hazing incidents, have spurred me on to recruit an impressive team of essayists contributing to this anthology. In addition, I see other bright lighthouses now erected on the formerly dark shores….