Hazing in Campus Recreation: Part I

March 31, 2011

It’s Not Just a Greek Thing

Jean McClellan-Holt, Ed.D, CRSS
Assistant Director, Recreation & Wellness
Old Dominion University

What’s the big deal about hazing — it’s just kids being kids, just fun and games. In the past, many college presidents encouraged hazing – to them hazing taught precedence, built school loyalty, and assimilated students from all economic classes (Novak, 2009). Hazing builds character and shows what you’re made of. Hazing is a Greek thing — we don’t need to worry about it in Campus Recreation —right? WRONG!!

According to the National Study of Student Hazing (Allan & Madden, 2008), hazing in sport clubs ranked #3 with 64% of the respondents reporting at least one hazing incident affiliated with their efforts to join or remain on a sport club team. Intramural sports ranked # 6 with 49% of the respondents reporting at least one hazing incident affiliated with their efforts to join or remain on an intramural team. Hazing is not just a “Greek” issue, it is a societal issue. Hazing can lead to humiliation, physical and psychological injury, even DEATH. If hazing is such a bad thing WHY is it still so prevalent in our society? Before one can tackle the issue of why hazing is so prevalent in our society, it would be helpful to define hazing. This is a difficult task because hazing is such a broad term. A plethora of activities can be considered to be hazing, and in some cases an activity may be hazing to one person and may not be hazing to another person.

Below are some common definitions of hazing:

  • Any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off school premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule. Any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate. (Mothers Against School Hazing, 2010).
  • Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. (Fraternal Information & Programming Group, 2008).
  • Any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. This does not include activities such as rookies carrying the balls, team parties with community games, or going out with your teammates, unless an atmosphere of humiliation, degradation, abuse or danger arises. (Alfred University & National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1999).
  • Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate. (Allan & Madden, 2008).

Types of Hazing
According to StopHazing.org (2010), there are three categories of hazing behavior: subtle hazing, harassment hazing, and violent hazing.

Subtle hazing consists of actions that are often taken for granted or accepted as “harmless” or meaningless. These actions are against accepted standards of conduct, behavior and good taste. While subtle hazing represents the mildest form of hazing, the emotional effects on the hazed individual can be very serious. Examples include:

  • Deception
  • Deprivation of privileges granted to other members
  • Assignment of tasks/duties not assigned to other members
  • Name calling
  • Expecting certain items to always be in one’s possession.

Harassment hazing consists of behaviors that cause emotional duress or physical discomfort. These actions confuse, frustrate, and cause undue stress on the hazed individual. Harassment hazing is more aggressive than subtle hazing, but not as aggressive as violent hazing. Examples include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats or implied threats
  • Asking new members to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire
  • Stunt or skit nights with degrading, crude, or humiliating acts
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sexual simulations
  • Being expected to harass others

Violent hazing consists of behaviors that have the potential to cause physical and/or emotional, or psychological harm. This is the most aggressive form of hazing. Examples; which can be considered to be criminal acts, include:

  • Forced or coerced alcohol or other drug consumption
  • Beating, paddling, or other forms of assault
  • Branding and burning
  • Forced or coerced ingestion of vile substances or concoctions
  • Water intoxication
  • Public nudity
  • Expecting illegal activity
  • Bondage
  • Abductions/kidnappings
  • Exposure to extreme weather conditions without appropriate protection

Why is Hazing so Prevalent in Society

In 1990 only 25 states had passed Anti-Hazing laws. Although 44 states currently have Anti-Hazing laws (StopHazing.org, 2010), hazing continues to exist in all walks of life. As previously mentioned, one issue in the prevention of hazing is the identification of hazing activities. Do the actions of a drill sergent constitute hazing? Was Brady Quinn hazed when members of the Cleveland Browns shaved his head? Did Bill Parcells haze rookie player by having them get him cups of water? Technically, the answer to all of these questions is “YES”. Hazing also continues to flourish because many people believe that hazing is positive.

According to this cross-section of people, hazing serves to:

  • Teach discipline and respect for authority (military boot camp)
  • Teach and develop teamwork (scavenger hunts)
  • Provide individuals with time to reflect/meditate (silence periods).

Considering these beliefs it is no wonder that many states do not considered an act to be hazing if there is no bodily harm (Novak, 2009). In fact, in most States with Anti-Hazing laws, hazing is considered to be a misdemeanor and carries relatively light consequences for even the most egregious acts.

In Dennis D. Vaughn vs. Pool Offshore Company (OpenJurist, 2010), Mr. Vaughn asserted that he was subjected to numerous acts of hazing by employees of Pool Offshore, an oil rigging company. These acts included:

  • Having his genitals covered with grease
  • Having cold water poured on him and the lights turned off while he showered
  • Having hot coffee poured in his back pocket.

The court concluded that the above mentioned acts were nothing more than male behaviors typical of the work environment, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this ruling by stating that the acts of hazing were a rite of passage to which all new offshore rig worker were subjected.

Contrary to the above mentioned Texas case, Florida has one of the strongest Anti-Hazing laws. Enacted in 2005, after the 2001 death of a University of Miami student, the Florida law makes hazing a third degree felony if the act results in serious bodily injury or death. If the hazing act creates a substantial risk of physical injury or death, it is considered to be a first degree misdemeanor (StopHazing.org, 2010). In 2006, Michael Morton challenged his conviction for felony hazing of a fellow Florida A&M University student. The basis for Mr. Morton’s challenge was that the wording “seriously bodily injury” was vague. The District Court rejected Mr. Morton’s challenge; however, his conviction was overturned due to an error in jury instruction (DocStoc, 2010).

While Anti-Hazing laws are important, hazing prevention is equally important. Part II of this article will focus on what various universities and the National Collaborative for Hazing Research & Prevention are doing to prevent hazing.


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