Lifting the haze on hazing

student being hazed

More than half of students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing, according to StopHazing.org, a hazing prevention and research initiative based at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Hazing is any activity associated with joining a group that involves degrading, abusive, risky, or illegal practices—like drinking games, sleep deprivation, paddling, or verbal abuse. Hazing has hit the headlines for causing physical and emotional harm (and, in some cases, death). Students with histories of mental health issues, abuse, and trauma are particularly vulnerable.

Student Health 101 talked with Susan Lipkins, PhD, a psychologist and author of Preventing Hazing (2006).

Here’s what you need to know:

  • A typical hazing perpetrator is simply a senior student who had it done to him or her as a freshman.
  • Hazing is rarely called hazing. You’re more likely to hear “rights of passage,” “ritual,” “tradition,” “pledging,” or “this is what we do.”
  • Rumors of what goes on in a sports team or fraternity are usually true. But if you ask members, they are likely to lie, and you might get a worse hazing.
  • As individuals, students who resist or object tend to get it worse.
  • As groups, new students can arrange in advance that they will say “enough” and leave. This is effective only when the group sticks together.
  • Don’t try to stop a hazing ritual unless you are in a position of social power.
  • As groups, bystanders can moderate a hazing ritual. These lines are useful: “We don’t want to lose our team or scholarship”; “We don’t want to end up in jail or the hospital.”  Effective intervention can end with bystanders escorting the newcomers out.
  • Is hazing a bonding experience? “It is bonding—in the same way that you can bond in a car accident together,” says Susan Lipkins.
  • Most important: If you are in a position to report hazing, anonymously or not, do so.
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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and the managing editor of JHStyle Magazine based in Jackson Hole, Colorado. Her writing credits include the International Journal of Wilderness, Mountain Outlaw, Teton Family Magazine, Big Sky Weekly, and Dishing. Her MS in natural resources is from Humboldt State University in California.