Clearing the haze around college hazing

Alan Duff


In the last few years hazing has been getting a lot of press, and not just from the stereotypical origins of fraternities and sports teams, but among almost any college group. In response, a lot of emphasis has been placed on stopping hazing.

However, ask 10 people what hazing is and you’ll probably get 10 different answers, so the tricky meaning and definition of the word hazing need to be assessed before any solution can truly be implemented.


College, the Holy Grail of education, has always had a lot to offer students who are willing to work hard and excel, not only in academics but in extracurricular groups such as sports, clubs and social groups.


Students willing to participate in everything that college has to offer will normally partake in a few, if not several extracurricular activities on campus with the impression that they will learn, have fun and make new friends.


Being humiliated or beaten in the process of joining an organization should not be a concern for college students or their parents, but it unfortunately is. In the last few years such incidents as the hazing rituals of the Florida A&M University marching band have come to light.


These have been discussed in part due to drummer Robert Champion, who died as a result of a brutal hazing ritual he was subjected to by one of the best marching bands in the nation.


Cases like the Florida marching band’s beating ritual illustrate the importance of stopping hazing. No one should be killed or put in a life-threatening situation when joining a college organization. While beatings and physical assault are obvious examples of hazing, there are more subtle ones like drinking, harassment and humiliation that are just as crucial to the definition.


I remember in a hazing test I used to take for sports teams at my high school there was a question that was almost always missed. It involved asking whether or not drinking gallons of water in a small length of time was hazing. Obviously it was, but it’s not something that a student would normally think of as harmful.


The problem with hazing is that in response to extreme cases of hazing, rounds of lawsuits and fears of future hazing practices have expanded the definition of hazing more and more. Now, under some groups’ definitions of hazing, almost any action could be considered hazing.


Consider, for example, this definition of hazing: Any action done with or without the consent of participants for the purpose of joining an organization that does not need to be done by the rest of the organization that could be considered harmful or humiliating.

It sounds good on paper, but what if a person needs to read a brochure in order to learn about an organization in order to join? Or prove that they can draw, sing or play an instrument? Suddenly, auditions are hazing.


I’m not saying we should try being less lenient on hazing activities by creating a weaker definition. Instead, we should remember what the purpose of stopping hazing is: to protect individuals who join an organization from physical or mental harm or humiliation.


That is why a strong definition that everyone can agree on is needed. Colleges, if they want to stop hazing, must work together and come up with a standard definition of hazing so that it can be applied everywhere in the United States.


There would be no disagreements then on what hazing is or isn’t. No hiding behind ignorance or inconsistencies of definition. When defining a problem that threatens lives, consistency should be key. Hopefully then we’ll all be able to more readily recognize and punish hazing.