By OVID VICKERS
The ridiculous practice of hazing on college campuses, with the possible exception of some social clubs, is happily disappearing from the nation’s colleges. Although some instances are still reported each year, they are relatively few. The decline began with the return to college of young men who had served in World War II and entered college well past their teens. These men had their heads saved when they joined the military, and they were not about to let some college upper-classman attack their heads again with razors or scissors.
The imminent historian Thomas D. Clark, a native of Winston County, Mississippi, describes hazing at the University of Mississippi in his autobiography My Century in History. Clark entered the University in 1925 and makes the following observation about campus hazing. “The insidious idiocy of hazing freshen was carried out during the first week of classes. This consisted of paddling, cutting hair, and making the freshmen do errands and chores for the upperclassmen. The hair cutters seemed to be lineal descendants of bushwhackers and night-riding Klansmen. I witnessed a poor homesick freshman paddled unmercifully, an act that almost sent him home in defeat. I looked upon the practice of hazing as barbaric and escaped it because I was older than the average entering freshman.”
In the years when it was widely practiced, hazing filtered down from colleges to high schools and even to middle schools, particularly city schools. When I completed the sixth grade in South Georgia, I went to live with my grandparents in Gadsden, Alabama in order (my parents thought) to receive better instruction than I was getting in the rural school I had been attending.
At the final bell on the first day of school, the boys in the eighth grade quickly rode their bicycles away from the campus and formed into groups to waylay the seventh graders. There was much paddling, and I even witnessed pages being torn from textbooks of seventh grade boys. In those days, the state did not furnish books; they were purchased by the individual students, so the loss of a book was a major economic loss.
When I began teaching at East Central Junior College in 1955, hazing was still practiced, although it was somewhat controlled by the college and was conducted in a semi-organized manner. A day was set aside for what was called freshman initiation.
The official title was “Freshman Day,” and a list of rules and activities were passed out to the student body.
A typical “Freshman Day” began with the sophomores waking the freshmen about 4:30 in the morning. The freshmen men ran around the football field, and the women took cold showers. When the freshmen dressed, they were told to wear their clothes “wrong-side-out” and backwards. Some were required to wear an onion around their necks on a string, while males had their hair cut, the females had jars of Vaseline smeared into their hair.
At breakfast, the freshmen were required to sit on the floor and eat their food without the aid of a fork, knife, or spoon. Freshmen were required to learn the words to a song, which they had to sing at the request of any sophomore. (I cannot remember the words to the song, and I wonder if students who learned them now remember the words.)
When classes were over in the afternoon, all the freshmen lined up and paraded through town wearing whatever ridiculous garb a sophomore had decided they should wear. Some years what was referred to as a “Sadie Hawkins Race” took place on the front campus. All the freshman girls lined up on one side of the campus, and the boys lined up a short distance away. At a given signal, the girls chased the boys. If a boy was caught, he had to escort the girl to the dance that concluded the day. I am sure that some young men made little effort to escape, wanting to be caught by a certain girl.
After supper, a dance was held in what is now referred to as the “old gymnasium.” The dance seldom lasted past eleven o’clock because half of the participants were so tired from the day’s activities that they had rather sleep than dance.
Freshman hazing at East Central was discontinued in the early 1960s for several reasons. Activities on Freshman Day caused a great deal of disruption in classes. Students became more sophisticated and considered the hazing to be degrading and immature. Other forms of entertainment came about, and some activities lost their appeal.
Hazing, when carried to the extreme, can be dangerous. Students have suffered broken bones from being forced to perform stunts or activities which were beyond their physical abilities.
The fact that hazing no longer is permitted on the East Central campus means that instructors no longer have to smell raw onion or look at skinned heads while attempting to impart useful knowledge to an entering freshman class.