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“Why do we like hazing?” From the Harvard Crimson

Essay by Reina A. E. Gattuso

Excerpt follows:

It’s going to be that time soon.

Rumors abound. Sometimes you are given a key to a secret door, or asked to sign a book based on political affiliation, or blindfolded.

Sometimes the rumors are worse: You don’t sleep for a week and you’re forced to wear stupid clothing. Or you serve older members at events. Or you ridicule yourself and each other.

And worse still: Who has burned a dollar bill in front of a homeless person? Who has pretended to hawk Spare Change News? Who was concussed and prevented from going to the hospital? Who has been sexually assaulted?

I’m talking about initiations. Here’s how they work. All semester, we go through a comp, or a punch, or a rush—a process of competition, selection, and training for one of many exclusive organizations on campus. Sometimes, these processes are educational and fun. Sometimes, they entail a certain level of dickishness, calculated to make applicants feel small. But almost unanimously, these processes rely on hierarchical divisions between members and compers, inside and out.

If and when we get on, we are initiated, and the hierarchy is leveled. During a climactic evening or day or week—often chemically-altered, often somewhat mysterious—we participate in rituals of belonging. Sometimes these rituals are silly and fun: We go on scavenger hunts and dance to Beyoncé.

 

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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