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Jet Magazine weighs in on hazing

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Excerpt: Although few HBCU band directors deny hazing occurs, many criticized the cable network for leaving its viewers with the misperception that the problem was endemic to their programs.

“Of course, there are problems with HBCU bands and hazing,” said Julian E. White, Ph.D., band director of the famed Marching 100 from Florida A&M University (FAMU). “But [HBO] made it seem like Black schools are the only places where it’s happening, and that administrators are turning their backs and ignoring it. That’s just not the case.”

An HBO spokesman said the network was standing by its story, which included an interview with a researcher who claimed that, overall, hazing at Black schools was more accepted and more violent than at White schools.

But Eleanor M. King, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., says hazing is neither a new phenomenon nor one confined to a specific racial, ethnic or cultural group.

Instead, she said, hazing often is a dangerous perversion of more familiar “rites of passage” that are used universally to signify an individual’s transition from one social status to another.

These rites can include such ceremonies as weddings, baptisms, graduations and induction into fraternities, sororities or the military. While specific rituals vary, they tend to intensify feelings of camaraderie, and are probably rooted in our DNA. Left unchecked, however, even well-intentioned traditions can devolve into acts of sheer brutality that can leave lasting physical and emotional scars—and result in senseless tragedy.

“Rites of passage are neither good nor bad; they are just a part of life,” says King. “It is a human impulse to be competitive and, even in the most cooperative societies, you have to have a way to channel that aggression. But there’s a delicate balance between honoring a cultural tradition and violating someone’s civil or human rights.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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