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Hazing: Not Just a College Problem Anymore

In 2000, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) accepted responsibility for the alcohol-related death of freshman Scott Krueger in a 1997 fraternity hazing ritual. In a letter to Krueger's family, MIT President Charles Vest wrote, "At a very personal level, I feel that we at MIT failed you and Scott." A recent study suggests that hazing isn't just a college problem anymore. Our high schools, it appears, also fail their students. Included: Tips to help schools prevent hazing.

Any action taken or situation created intentionally ... to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities may include but are not limited to the following: use of alcohol; paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside or inside of the confines of the chapter house; wearing of public apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities; and any other activities which are not consistent with fraternal law, ritual, or policy or the regulations and policies of the educational institution.

     -- Hazing Defined, from the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group (FIPG)

The same week Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Charles Vest admitted that the school had failed to protect freshman Scott Krueger, who died in a 1997 fraternity hazing ritual, a Connecticut high school announced it was investigating hazing allegations in which student athletes were stripped and beaten with plastic bats. Do some high schools fail to protect students from "mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule"? Some studies suggest that they do.

In 1998, a disturbing hazing incident took place at Alfred University in Alfred, New York. University administrators responded by instituting a survey of hazing among NCAA (college) athletes. The results of the survey, Initiation Rites and Athletics for NCAA Sports Teams, released in August of 1999, revealed that 42 percent of college athletes first experienced hazing in high school. Concerned about those figures, the university instituted a second survey exploring hazing among high school students.

That report, Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey, based on a survey of more than 1,500 high school juniors and seniors, was released in 2000. The results, according to Dr. Norman Pollard, director of counseling and student development at Alfred University and one of report's authors, were "alarming."


Nearly half the students who responded to the survey reported being the victims of hazing. They were yelled or sworn at and thrown into pools, oceans, creeks, ponds, or toilets. Students were forced to act as personal servants; undress, tell dirty stories or jokes, or embarrass themselves publicly; skip school or refuse to do schoolwork or chores; tattoo, pierce, or shave themselves or one another; eat or drink disgusting things; and go without food, sleep, or cleanliness.

Overall, 43 percent of the students surveyed reported being subjected to humiliating activities, 23 percent reported hazing that involved substance abuse, and 30 percent reported performing illegal or potentially illegal acts. Because more than half the high school students subjected to humiliation were also expected to engage in potentially illegal acts, "humiliation appears to be a clear warning flag that illegal hazing behaviors are involved or may develop," the report states. "Based on ... the best estimate available, we project that more than 1.5 million high school students in the United States are subjected to some form of hazing each year."

"We believe that most adults are unaware of the extent of hazing because it isn't publicized," Pollard told Education World. "Hazing by its very nature is private and secret, and victims of hazing are often ashamed. Students don't know whom to tell or how to tell.

"For athletes in particular, participation in sports is a primary means of socialization," Pollard explained. "Suddenly, after years of involvement in youth sports, they are expected to do something dangerous or humiliating in order to be part of a team. For a young person, choosing not to participate in team sports is a horrible alternative. To give up sports is to give up identity. For them, [to be humiliated] is a better alternative than to be isolated and ostracized."


Athletes are not the only students who undergo hazing. Almost every type of high school group, including church groups, had significantly high levels of hazing. Among high school students subjected to hazing, 24 percent were involved in sports; 16 percent in peer groups or gangs; 8 percent in music, art, or theater; and 7 percent in church groups. Fraternities and sororities hazed 76 percent of their members; peer groups and gangs, 73 percent; sports teams, 35 percent; cheerleading squads, 34 percent; vocational groups, 27 percent; and church groups, 24 percent.

Although no high school group was completely free of hazing, the survey found that certain factors made hazing more likely and/or more prevalent.

  • Male students were more likely to undergo hazing than female students were.
  • Students who knew an adult who had been hazed were more likely to endure hazing. "Adults often promote hazing," Pollard said, "by recounting their own experiences in a way that glorifies hazing or, at the very least, fails to explain the negative aspects."
  • Students with lower grade point averages (GPAs) were significantly more likely to be involved with all forms of hazing than were those with higher GPAs.
  • Not surprisingly, students who said they considered hazing socially acceptable were significantly more frequently involved in all forms of hazing. "Victims of hazing continue the practice because forcing others to participate in hazing activities reinforces that what they endured was OK," Pollard said. "It also allows them to get their 'pound of flesh.'"


Forty-four states had enacted anti-hazing laws by 2000, according to Pollard; some of those laws exclude minors, however, and apply only to college students. Few high school students know whether hazing is illegal in their state. About 44 percent of the students surveyed reported that they did not know whether hazing was legal or illegal in their state. Another 43 percent thought it was illegal, and 13 percent thought it was legal.

Merely having a hazing law in place doesn't stop high school hazing, according to Dr. Nadine Hoover, the designer of and principal investigator for the survey. Although the college hazing survey found that states with anti-hazing laws had significantly lower rates of college hazing, the high school survey revealed that anti-hazing laws made no significant difference in the level of high school hazing behavior.

"High school students don't know hazing is against the law," Hoover said. "It's very important for school administrators to be sure that their students know the law and understand it."


Nearly three-quarters of the high school students who were victims of hazing said the experience had negative consequences that included physical injuries; poor grades; abusive behavior; difficulty eating, sleeping, or concentrating; and feelings of anger, confusion, embarrassment, or guilt. Nearly half failed to report the experience, though.

"One of the most alarming things we discovered in the study," Pollard said, "is that 40 percent of students victimized by hazing do not tell an adult because they feel adults wouldn't know how to handle it. In order to prevent hazing, therefore, teachers, administrators, coaches, and organization leaders need to be proactive."

Pollard recommends that responsible adults

  • tell students what hazing is before problems arise,
  • make it clear that hazing is wrong,
  • let students know that adults are approachable and that they can and will help them,
  • initiate positive team-building initiation experiences.

"Parents are also terrified about hazing," Pollard said, "but many don't know how to approach administrators who have previously responded with a 'boys will be boys' attitude." Schools can help parents and students by

  • establishing anti-hazing rules with clearly defined consequences,
  • providing opportunities for parents and students to talk about what hazing is and what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate,
  • requiring students and/or parents to sign contracts that make it clear that hazing is wrong and won't be tolerated.

Some schools, according to Pollard, use a Web site called as away of dealing with hazing. The site allows students at enrolled schools to anonymously report weapons, drugs, acts of violence, and criminal activities to school authorities. For an enrollment fee of $365 a year, a school is provided with a home page that students can visit anonymously to report a problem. The report is then forwarded to administrators at the student's school.

According to Anthony Lavalle, director of, the site encourages students to report problems in person to someone at their own school but provides those students who want to remain anonymous with a way to do so. Each school's page also provides students with information about, and links to, school, community, and national help resources.

"We maintain communication with administrators at the enrolled schools," Lavalle told Education World, "and despite concerns about false reporting, students have not abused the system."


Prevent Hazing!

A study on high school hazing recommends that schools take the following steps to prevent hazing:

* Adopt strict anti-hazing rules and written policies.

* Organize community opportunities to discuss hazing.

* Take hazing seriously; discuss it with students everywhere -- in classrooms, sports, bands, choirs, and other groups.

* Educate administrators, leaders of groups or organizations, families, and students about hazing and its consequences.

* Provide information about the dangers of hazing, those that concern loss of civility and loss of life.

* Make student behavior part of each group leader's evaluation.

* Develop a contract for students and parents to sign regarding hazing.

* Require students to meet behavioral as well as academic standards to continue in extra-curricular groups.

* Establish a record of taking strong disciplinary action in cases of hazing.

* Immediately notify families and law enforcement of any suspected hazing incidents.



"Hazing," Pollard told Education World, "is bullying with a connection to a group. It's an initiation gone awry. Young people, because they don't know how to conduct initiation activities, too often find activities that are dangerous and humiliating. Students need to be able to look to administrators, teachers, coaches, and organization leaders to facilitate appropriate initiation activities."

Nadine Hoover agrees. "Schools need to send a clear anti-hazing message," she told Education World. "They need to take hazing seriously and take strong action against it. Most important, they need to develop and provide good initiation rites for students-- rites that are unique, meaningful, effective, and capable of creating a sense of bonding.

"Groups in all communities need to initiate their members in positive ways," Hoover continued. "Young people need a sense of initiation into adulthood. And sometime around seventh grade, they also develop a need for rites of passage. Hazing occurs when a group's need for initiation merges with the needs of individuals to prove themselves as individuals in a community context.

"If we provide young people with appropriate rites of passage, with positive initiation rituals, we meet their needs," Hoover explained. "If not, they'll meet their own needs, however and wherever they can. Often they'll meet those needs through hazing behaviors."

Hoover suggests that schools provide opportunities and direction for initiation activities that include food and/or recreation. "Banquets, picnics, pizza parties, ice-cream parties-- any ritual built around food is an important community ritual," Hoover pointed out. "Unprogrammed, relaxing recreation brings people together in a natural and genuine manner, allows them the opportunity to become closer, and helps them form groups."

Two specific elements are particularly important in positive initiation activities for teens, Hoover noted. The first-- and probably the most important-- element is the element of risk. "This is very difficult for public institutions to accept," Hoover said. "Student services in schools are designed to nurture-- and students need plenty of that. But they also need to be truly challenged, to prove themselves in meaningful ways. In order to be accepted by students as legitimate alternatives to hazing, positive initiation activities need to contain an element of risk. Whether it's a rope course, a hike, a camping trip, or some other activity, schools must provide environments in which they can [ensure] safety and still [offer] real challenges."

The second important element in positive initiation activities for teens is an adult presence. "Adults modeling social behavior in an informal manner are very important," Hoover said. "Young people who see how adults handle social situations-- how they include people in conversations, how they respond to new people they meet, how they bring in people who are holding back-- learn to imitate and take up those same patterns of behavior."


"Hazing is a behavior that defines exclusivity," Hoover told Education World. "In this country, we are very quick to judge people by the groups they belong to-- and that often starts very young. In some ways, students involved in hazing are saying 'I'm better than you, so I can make you do these dangerous and humiliating things. After you've done them, you can be part of my group and then you will be better than everyone else too.'

"In some ways, hazing is a high-class phenomenon," Hoover added. "Among college athletes, for example, hazing is most common in swimming, diving, and lacrosse-- sports that are most common at more exclusive schools. The incidence of hazing among basketball players is very low.

"We need to raise awareness among kids and adults that excluding people is a problem," Hoover explained. "At the very least, we lose the talent of the people who are shut out. At the very worst, it leads to events like Columbine. When students are thinking about hazing, they need to be told that hazing shuts people out of communities, and our communities need to include everyone. That's how we create safe communities-- by welcoming everyone and utilizing their talents."

For more information on how to prevent and deal with hazing, visit, a Web site that provides educational information about hazing for students, parents, and educators.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World


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Updated 11/04/2011