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Scholarship: Donelson Forsyth, Society of Personality & Social Psychology

Why do groups haze new members? 

 

Excerpt:

The list grows ever longer: Names like Harry Lew, Chucky Stenzel, Chad Saucier, Gabe Higgins, Donna Bedinger, J. B. Joynt…and now Robert Champion. Its the list of people killed by hazing. Champion died of “blunt force trauma” that occurred during the FAMU marching band’s “Crossing Bus C” ritual, when his classmates punched and slapped him as he walked down the aisle of the band bus. He suffered so many injuries, inflicted by so many hands, that prosecutors charged 11 members of the band with felony hazing.

Hazing should never happen, but it does. Hank Nuwer’s Wrongs of Passage documents in excruciating detail the way fraternity pledges at some universities are ritually beaten, ridiculed, harassed, and coerced into abusing alcohol and drugs. New members of sports teams are subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. The recent suicide of Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew has been linked to hazing. Marching bands, clubs, schools, businesses, even churches: they psychologically and physically harm their newest members.

Hazing is an entrenched group practice, and has been documented in ancient and modern societies and in all parts of the world. It’s a remnant of the modern-day group’s origins in the primal horde, designed to humble newcomers, remind them of their lowly status, and teach them to respect the group’s chain of command and traditions. Hazing legitimizes the abuse of power by group leaders, who claim the practice will unify the group, weed out the weak and uncommitted, and give newcomers a chance to prove their worth (Cimino, 2011).

But hazing is the wrong way to achieve any of these outcomes. Research in social psychology, including the classic study conducted by Eliott Aronson and Jud Mills in the 1950s, suggests that individuals rate positively groups which cause them to suffer, but other research indicates people like groups that support and reward them even more (Lodewijkx, van Zomeren, & Syroit, 2005). When Raalte, Cornelius, Linder, and Brewer (2007) examined the effects of  two type of initiations—ones that involved group outings, swearing an oath, performing in skits, and doing community service and ones that involved kidnapping and abandonment, verbal abuse, physical punishment (spankings, whippings, and beatings), degradation and humiliation, sleep deprivation, alcohol abuse, running errands, and exclusion—they discovered the positive forms increased group unity. The negative forms backfired, creating tension and disunity in the group.

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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