WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
- Hazing is a violation of Texas A&M University Student Code of Conduct, student organization policies, and Texas State law.
- Hazing takes various forms, but typically involves physical risks or mental distress through, for example, humiliating, intimidating, or demeaning activities.
- Hazing can cause significant harm to individuals, groups, the University, and the Aggie Family.
- Hazing occurs in a variety of organizations including fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, performance groups, honor societies, and other organizations.
- Groups that haze can achieve the positive outcomes they seek from hazing through non-hazing means.
Hazing refers to any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. Hazing is a complex social problem that is shaped by power dynamics operating in a group and/or organization and within a particular cultural context. Hazing is a process, based on a tradition that is used by groups to maintain a hierarchy (i.e., a pecking order) within the group. Regardless of consent, the activities require individuals to engage in situations which are physically and psychologically stressful. Hazing practices can quickly spiral out of control and cause significant and lasting physical and/or psychological damage.
THE "HIDDEN HARM" OF HAZING
The trauma experienced by individuals exposed to hazing may be evident immediately, or it may be delayed for months, years, or even decades after the process has concluded. The concept of "Hidden Harm" has to do with the fact that everything cannot be known about the individuals who choose to join groups and organizations. They may have a background or personal experiences which make them highly susceptible to serious repercussions when exposed to hazing environments.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF IT IS HAZING
If you have to ask if it’s hazing, it probably is. Here are some things to think about, and to help you determine if the activity is hazing
- Is this in line with your organization’s mission and values?
- Is alcohol involved? Are any state, local laws or University Rules being violated?
- Will active/current members of the group refuse to participate with the new members and do exactly what they're being asked to do?
- Does the activity risk emotional or physical abuse?
- Is there a risk of injury or a question of safety?
- Do you have any reservation describing the activity to your parents, to a professor, University official, or the media?
- Must members carry specific items with them at all times?
- Must members remain silent for a certain time period, or are they denied contact with friends and family?
EXAMPLES OF HAZING
This list of prohibited practices is intended to provide examples of hazing that can occur during any initiation/training process and active membership to an organization/team. Because it is impossible to anticipate every situation that could involve hazing, this list should not be considered all-inclusive. Any infraction of the below can result in the loss of intake privileges (recruiting, training, new members, etc.), current and future, and/or university recognition (including Greek charters and athletic eligibility), as well as other disciplinary sanctions. Student rules involving hazing may be found at student-rules.tamu.edu/rule24.
Psychological hazing, which is defined as any act which is likely to: (a) compromise the dignity of another; (b) cause embarrassment or shame to another; (c) cause another to be the object of malicious amusement or ridicule; (d) or cause psychological harm or substantial emotional strain.
- Forced activities for new recruits to ‘prove’ their worth to join
- Forced or required consumption of alcohol
- Requirement to eat spicy foods, other substances
- Requirement to endure hardships such as staying awake, menial tasks, physical labor, running while blindfolded, etc.
- Humiliation of new or potential members
- Isolation of new or potential members
- Beatings, paddling, or other physical acts against new or potential members
- Requirements for new or potential members to do things established members are not required to do
- Illegal activities such as a requirement to steal local items as part of a scavenger hunt
Myths & Facts
Myth: The definition is so vague that anything can be considered hazing - it's really open to interpretation.
Reality: Read the definition and then ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the activity involve mental distress such as humiliation or intimidation?
- Does it involve physical abuse (e.g., sleep deprivation)?
- Is there a significant risk of injury or a question of safety?
- Would you have any reservations describing the activity to your parents or a university official?
- Is alcohol involved?
- Would you be worried if the activity was shown on the evening news?
- If the answer to any of the above questions is "Yes," the activity is probably hazing.
Myth: Hazing builds unity among new members.
Reality: Hazing may create unity among new members, but often there are costs as well. The effect of hazing on a group can be like the effect of a hurricane on a community: residents feel closer to each other afterward but some may be suffering. Would anyone suggest that it is good for a community to be hit by a hurricane?
Myth: Hazing is no more than foolish pranks that sometimes go awry.
Reality: Hazing is an act of power and control over others --- it is victimization. Hazing is pre-meditated and NOT accidental. Hazing is abusive, degrading and often life-threatening.
Myth: If someone agrees to participate in an activity, it can't be considered hazing.
Reality: In states that have laws against hazing consent of the victim can't be used as a defense in a civil suit. This is because even if someone agrees to participate in a potentially hazardous action it may not be true consent when considering the peer pressure and desire to belong to the group.
Myth: Hazing continues because everyone in the group supports it.
Reality: Many group members may not approve of hazing but go along with the activity because they mistakenly believe everyone else agrees with it. This helps to perpetuate hazing. The strongest supporters of hazing are often the most vocal and dominant members.
Myth: Hazing is really just a prank that goes wrong.
Reality: Accidents can happen during hazing, but hazing is not accidental. It is an act of power and control over others. It is premeditated abuse that can be emotionally traumatic, degrading, physically dangerous or even life-threatening.
Myth: Hazing only exists in fraternities and sororities.
Reality: Hazing incidents have occurred across the country in athletic teams, military units, performing arts groups, religious groups, and other types of clubs and organizations. Hazing occurs in high schools as well as on college campuses.
ALCOHOL & HAZING
CONSUMPTION AS A CONDITION FOR ADMISSION TO A GROUP
According to the Texas A&M University Student Code of Conduct, any consumption of alcohol, other drugs, or other substances that is "for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a group or organization” is hazing. This definition is applied regardless of the level of pressure to drink.
On the continuum of coercion to drink, an implicit condition may be as subtle as inviting members or prospective members to sit and drink with members while watching television. Or it can be more explicit, such as lining up fifteen shots and asking which of the members or prospective members can consume them in fifteen minutes.
PRESSURE TO PARTICIPATE IN DRINKING RITUALS
Some fatal cases of hazing have been labeled as episodes of "binge drinking," a term that suggests that the students who died of alcohol poisoning just used poor judgment and did not know when to stop drinking. It is more accurate to refer to such episodes as "ritualized drinking" in which there is systematic pressure applied to vulnerable members or prospective members that leads them to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol. A common argument in defense of groups that pressure members to drink is that they do not "force anyone to drink." Comments such as "No one poured it down their throats," and "They could have walked out at any time" ignore the reality of coercive power in groups and the fact that psychological force can be as strong as physical force.
RISKS OF ALCOHOL IN HAZING
In addition to potential legal and student conduct consequences, there are three health main risks that alcohol poses in hazing:
Acute Risk to Members
- Rapid consumption of large quantities of alcohol can kill by suppressing brain functions:
- A person can pass out and then drown in his or her own vomit because of an impaired gag reflex.
- A person can pass out and then suffocate with his or her face in a pillow.
- A person's breathing or heartbeat can stop.
- Heavy drinking can also lead to a wide range of negative consequences such as injuries and memory loss. Whenever a person is severely intoxicated, it is imperative that someone call for medical assistance. Every student should be familiar with the signs of alcohol poisoning and how to get help.
- It is never worth risking someone's life for the sake of the group. When someone does the right thing and calls for help, Texas A&M University administrators consider the act of calling a mitigating circumstance when determining any sanctions that might apply to an organization. Not calling is an aggravating circumstance that will result in more severe sanctions
Chronic Risk to Members
- One in ten students reports worrying that they might have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Many of these individuals have either developed or are at risk of developing alcohol dependency (the clinical term for alcoholism).
- New member processes that involve alcohol pose extra risk for students with alcohol problems. The consequences for the individual can be serious and can have a major negative impact on the group as well. By creating conditions where it is difficult for a person with an alcohol problem to decline to drink, the group contributes to the person's problem.
- In some cases, members are either unaware of such risks or recklessly disregard them. In one case, a new member explained to current members that another new member was recovering from a drinking problem. Rather than exempt the recovering member from drinking rituals, the members targeted this person for drinking activities.
Risk to Hazers and the Group
- In addition to increasing their own risk of the acute and long-term individual consequences described above, members who haze risk harming others and bringing sanctions upon themselves or their organization. When the members of a group that is hazing become intoxicated, they may make disastrous decisions. Impaired judgment can turn a premeditated act of hazing into a tragedy.
COSTS AND PERCEIVED BENEFITS OF HAZING
Below are some of the costs and perceived benefits that Texas A&M University students and alumni have attributed to hazing:
CONTINUUM OF HAZING
Hazing activities vary in severity and can range of activities which may be considered low to severe/life-threatening levels. The continuum also refers to the severity and duration of impact on individuals and groups. Below are a few important concepts related to the continuum of hazing.
The Reasonable Person Standard:
Where a given activity falls on the continuum is not simply a function of what the act looks like to an observer. That’s because hazing impacts people differently. An action that one reasonable person might experience as mildly humiliating might be experienced by another reasonable person as severely humiliating. In other words, when hazing occurs there are objective and subjective realities, both of which matter when assessing the severity of that action.
The Vulnerability Standard:
Certain individuals are more vulnerable to given acts of hazing, perhaps because of past experiences. For example, one fraternity required new members to perform an “elephant walk” in which new members were stripped down to jock straps, blindfolded, and forced to parade around the house in a straight line while holding each other’s hands between their legs. Objectively, a reasonable person might describe this as a very humiliating act. But for one new member, the act evoked memories of being sexually abused as a child. For this vulnerable individual, the act was also emotionally re-traumatizing.
The Grey Zone:
Some people find it difficult to determine when a given activity crosses over into hazing. If you are unsure whether an activity constitutes hazing, start by examining it in light of the University’s definition. You can also ask yourself a few questions:
- Would you hesitate to describe this activity to your parents or the police?
- If a videotape of the activity was shown on the news, would you be concerned that the group would get in trouble?
- Would the current members refuse to engage in the same activity?
If you answer affirmatively to any of these questions, there is a good chance that the activity is a form of hazing. If you are still unsure, you can place an anonymous call to university officials, including the Offices of the Dean of Students Life (979.845.3111), Student Conduct Office (979.847.7272), Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (979.862.5636), Corps of Cadets (979.458.1341) and ask their opinion.
Help Stop Hazing
Many individuals want hazing to stop
Some are friends or relatives of people being hazed, some are students who are being hazed themselves, and others are members of organizations that haze. They may even be hazers themselves, albeit reluctant ones. In order to play a role in preventing hazing, there are six steps that individuals must go through (adapted from Berkowitz, A., 1994) to move from being bystanders to active change agents:
Recognize the existence of hazing
Individuals may become aware that hazing is occurring through observations or reports from others. One barrier to recognizing hazing is a lack of understanding of the indications of hazing. For example, a student who is being hazed may exhibit excessive fatigue or appear disheveled. Or the sign may be more explicit, such as wearing odd clothing. Another barrier to recognition is avoidance of questions about high-risk situations. If you know that someone is going through something called “hell week,” you may need to ask him or her questions to find out what that involves.
Interpret the practices as a problem
Even when people are aware that someone is being hazed, they may not view the activities as being problematic. They may consider the practices to be silly or stupid, but not recognize them as being harmful or illegal. They may or may not consider what is occurring to be hazing, but even if they do they must see it as a problem or else they will not take action to challenge it.
Believe that they have a responsibility to do something
Even if individuals recognize that hazing is occurring and they interpret the behavior as a problem, they will not do anything about it if they do not believe that they have a responsibility to do so. But in a community, the responsibility to challenge harm to others is a shared one. It is therefore important for individuals to recognize the potential role they have in stopping hazing.
Know what to do
Some individuals are aware of hazing and feel a responsibility to do something about it, but they do not know what should be done. Whether there is a need to encourage someone to leave a group, make an anonymous report, or challenge a group to change its practices, it is important for bystanders to have some understanding of what should be done in order to make a difference.
Acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to act
Someone who is motivated and knows what must be done may still need to acquire specific knowledge (e.g., how to make a report, what alternatives to hazing exist) and the skills (e.g., a rehearsed plan of what to say) to execute what he or she knows will be required for change.
Overcome fear of potential negative consequences
If a person possesses the knowledge and skills to take action, he or she may still not take action because of fears (e.g., anger from the person they are trying to help or retaliation from the group being challenged).
Take action. If steps 1-6 are met, a person will be prepared to take action to help stop hazing. Some people pass through steps 1-6 in an instant, while others may struggle over time and not reach the point of action.
If steps 1-6 are met, a person will be prepared to take action to help stop hazing. Some people pass through steps 1-6 in an instant, while others may struggle over time and not reach the point of action.
YOU CAN HELP STOP HAZING
If you want to help stop hazing, find out about the steps to take and the resources that are available. If you become aware of hazing, you can make an anonymous report to University officials. And if you are hazed, one of the most important things you can do is to resist participating in the "tradition" of hazing the next generation of members. As a member of the organization, you will have a chance to challenge hazing and help bring about a change in the culture of the group and campus.
I'VE BEEN HAZED
Reactions to being hazed vary. Two people who go through the same experience might feel quite differently. Some people feel relatively positive about going through hazing (seeing it as an achievement), some feel mildly annoyed, and others have strong negative reactions. Reactions depend on the extent of the hazing, individual characteristics, and past experiences. For people who have been abused in the past, hazing can be re-traumatizing.
Anger, confusion, betrayal, fear, resentment, embarrassment, humiliation, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, and depression are all normal reactions to being hazed. Some individuals have become suicidal. Physical consequences can include exhaustion, headaches, hangovers, illnesses, injuries, and scars. It's common to believe that things won't get worse, though they often do. You may want the hazing to stop, but don't want to get the group in trouble. You may want to leave, but fear the consequences or feel like you've invested too much already to walk away. Self-blame can occur and is fueled by hazers who tell new members that they will let others down if they leave or tell anyone what is going on.
WHAT CAN I DO?
- Report it.
- Stay connected with friends outside of the group. Groups that haze often try to isolate their new members from others who might challenge them to question what they are going through.
- Talk with others about what you are going through. You do not have to keep it a secret. Demanding secrecy is a common practice designed to protect people who are abusing others. You have a right to tell anyone anything you want about what you are going through, even if you were made to promise that you would not do so.
- Seek guidance from your parents/guardian or other family members.
- Refuse to participate. Others before you have done so.
- Join together with other new members to refuse to be hazed. There is power in numbers because groups depend on getting new members to join. Some fraternity members admit that they became very worried when it appeared that a group of new members might rebel because the financial consequences to the group would be serious if the new members left. Hazers don't want new members to realize how much power they have, so they work hard to keep them subjugated.
- Leave the group. This is hard to do but is always an option. Walking away from hazing takes strength. Don't believe it if anyone who tries to tell you that it is a sign of weakness or that you weren't tough enough to hack it. Quitting when you are being hazed takes character.
- Talk to someone to help you sort out what to do.
Resources & References
UNOFFICIAL CLEARINGHOUSE TO TRACK HAZING DEATHS
Hank Nuwer's Clearing House
Allan, E.J. (2004). Hazing and Gender: Analyzing the Obvious. In Nuwer, H. (Ed.), The hazing reader (pp. 275-294). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Berkowitz, A. D. (Ed.). (1994) Men and rape. Theory, research and prevention programs in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Boglioli, L. R., & Taff, M. L. (1995). Death by fraternity hazing. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 16(1), 42-44.
Campo, S., Poulos, G. & Sipple, J. (2005). Prevalence and Profiling: Hazing Among College Students and Points of Intervention. American Journal of Health Behavior, 29(2), 137-149.
Cokley, K., Miller, K., Cunningham, D., Motoike, J., King, A. & Awad, G. (2001). Developing an instrument to assess college students' attitudes toward pledging and hazing in Greek letter organizations. College Student Journal, 35(3), 451-456.
Finkel, M. A. (2002). Traumatic injuries caused by hazing practices. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 20(3), 228-233.
Hollmann, B. (2002). Hazing: Hidden campus crime. New Directions for Student Services, 99,11.
Janis, I. L. (1997). Groupthink. In R. P. Vecchio (Ed.), Leadership: Understanding the dynamics of power and influence in organizations. (pp. 163-176). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Jones, R. L. (2000). The historical significance of sacrificial ritual: Understanding violence in the modern black fraternity pledge process. The Western Journal of Black Studies, 24(2), 112-124.
Kimbrough, W. (2003). Black Greek 101: The culture, customs, and challenges of Black fraternities and sororities. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Land, B. (2004). Goat: A memoir. Random House: New York.
Lipkins, Susan (2006). Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the violence, Harassment and Humiliation. Jossey Bass Wiley.
Lodewijkx, H., & Syroit, J. (1997). Severity of initiation revisited: Does severity of initiation increase attractiveness in real groups? European Journal of Social Psychology, 27(3), 275-300.
Lodewijkx, H., & Syroit, J. (2001). Affiliation during naturalistic severe and mild initiations: Some further evidence against the severity-attraction hypothesis. Current Research in Social Psychology, 6(7), 90-107.
Martin, R. and Davids, K. (1995) The effects of group development techniques on a professional athletic team. Journal of Social Psychology: 135(4), 533- 535.
Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. New York: Harper and Row.
Nuwer, H. (1990). Broken pledges: The deadly rite of hazing. Atlanta, GA: Longstreet Press.
Nuwer, H. (2000). High school hazing: When rites become wrongs. Franklin Watts: New York.
Nuwer, H. (2001). Wrongs of passage: Fraternities, sororities, hazing and binge drinking. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Nuwer, H. (2004). The hazing reader. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Sweet, S. (1999). Understanding fraternity hazing: Insights from symbolic interactionist theory. Journal of College Student Development, 40(4), 355- 363.
Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). On the ethics of human intervention on human psychological research with special references to the Stanford prison experiment.