Hazing News

Viewpoint article on Maine and RIT athletic hazing responses…by Dr. Susan Lipkins

Moderator: The opinion piece by Dr. Lipkins follows:

By Dr. Susan Lipkins, Psychologist
Author: Preventing Hazing

College Administrators Haze Victims

Athletes, Parents, and Hazing Activists Beware!

A new form of hazing has arrived on campus. College administrators have twisted the intent of their own hazing policies and are now engaging in a “second hazing.”
Once students have been victimized by their teammates, they are likely to be hazed again. The University of Maine is leading the brigade by punishing freshmen – victims who were already humiliated and demeaned by their team. The Rochester Institute of Technology is using the same concept in a recent hazing that left the victims nearly dead!

In the spring of 2006 Ashley Waters was a freshmen on the U of Maine’s softball team. Part of the initiation involved underage drinking and being painted and dressed in humiliating costumes. Pictures of the rookies appeared online. The photos were sent to the administration and now, the University is punishing the victims!

Imagine, athletes spend thousands of hours perfecting their skills so that they may have a crack at the bat on a college campus. When they are good enough to play they have to endure the initiation process that often involves hazing. Remember athletes have no choice – there is no other team that they can play for. In fact, many athletes are on scholarship and must play in order to study at that college.

In the spring of 2007 males and females were hazed as they joined a Rugby team at R.I.T. in Rochester, New York. The freshmen were forced “to drink until they passed out.” One young athlete eventually turned blue, foamed at the mouth and luckily arrived at the hospital. Personnel reported that if he had arrived five minutes later, he would have been dead. As is, he was on a respirator for 60 hours. His blood alcohol level was above .5 (fyi, many people die at .4) He was not alone. Three hours later the police finally discovered several other students, and they were also rushed to the hospital, and another student, a female, was also placed on a respirator.

The college’s response was interesting. Rather than taking responsibility for the activities that are occurring in sanctioned sporting events, they are blaming the victim. They threaten the victims with expulsion for being involved in underage drinking. I wonder if the administration and their legal eagles have decided that the best defense is a good offense.

Let me explain a bit about hazing. To begin with, the NCAA reports that 79% of its players have been hazed in high school and therefore they come to college ready to be hazed and ready to haze others. Administrators should assume that hazing is happening, just as it did when they were in college, and when they were hazed.

Captains of various college athletic teams have told me that hazing is used as a de facto method of discipline. They are given the responsibility to organize and structure practices and to keep students working at their maximum. They are not given courses in management nor are they paid for their efforts. Coaches say “no hazing” and then walk away, turning a blind eye to the age old traditions that are established on their campuses.

From my point of view, the administrators are hazing the athletes a second time. The second hazing often happens once a hazing has been reported. Traditionally the community splits, often standing behind the coach and perpetrators; ostracizing the victim for breaking the code of silence. In such cases, the victim and his supporters are often run off campus or brutally isolated within the community.

A new twist.
In the cases described above, the college administration is hazing the victims, accusing them of breaking the rules, and punishing them for being involved in an age old tradition that the administration failed to stop before the freshmen arrived. The administration, like the perpetrators, uses intimidation and threats to scare the freshmen and their families.

Perhaps the administrators in Maine and Rochester should consider the latest charges in the De Vercelly case at Rider University. A hazing event in a fraternity also involved underage drinking, and a pledge died of an overdose. A New Jersey District Attorney filed criminal charges and indicted the Dean of Students, as well as two other college officials.

It seems to me that this concept, of holding the administration personally and criminally responsible for hazing could very well be applied in the cases of hazing that occurs on athletic teams and in other sanctioned college groups. In fact, college personnel are even more responsible for hazing in such groups, since they are being paid to teach and organize athletic teams, bands and other similar activities. Parents assume that the college faculty are focused on the physical and psychological health and safety of their children, and that freshmen are particularly vulnerable and should be protected.

What is missing from all these discussions, however, is the issue of how to stop hazing.
In order to stop it, we must learn to recognize it and admit that hazing is occurring throughout the nation on high school and college campuses. The administrators, coaches, teachers and parents need to be thoroughly and consistently educated before we educate the students. After all, change must occur from the top down. Prevention and intervention programs need to begin in high school, and continue in college, the military and the workplace. Hazing prevention is not a one shot deal, it is an ongoing, complex and difficult process since it is an effort to change our current systems as well as our culture and values.

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-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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