How Hazing Works

By: Dave Roos

Hazing at Colleges and Universities

Harvard freshman
Harvard freshmen get hazed in the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1914. Although hazing can be innocent fun like this, it often has a darker side. Bettmann/Getty Images

Hazing is not only persistent, but it's pervasive. On college campuses, hazing not only happens in Greek fraternities and sororities, but on athletic teams, in religious organizations and performing arts clubs.

The best data we have about the prevalence of hazing on college campuses comes from the National Study of Student Hazing, a 2007 survey that collected more than 11,000 responses from 53 college campuses nationwide and included more than 300 personal interviews. The survey results included the following percentages of students from each type of campus organization who experienced at least one hazing behavior [source: Allan]:


  • Varsity athletic team 74 percent
  • Social fraternity or sorority 73 percent
  • Club sport 64 percent
  • Performing arts organization 56 percent
  • Service fraternity or sorority 50 percent
  • Intramural team 49 percent
  • Recreation club 42 percent
  • Other (religiously affiliated organizations, culture clubs and organizations, and student government) 30 percent
  • Academic club 28 percent
  • Honor society 20 percent

The hazing epidemic among Greek-letter organizations is well documented, but many people are surprised to learn how widespread hazing has become on college sports teams. In an earlier survey conducted by Alfred University in 1999, researchers quizzed more than 325,000 student athletes from 1,000 colleges and universities about hazing and sports. Key findings included [source: Hoover]:

  • More than 75 percent of athletes experienced some form of hazing when joining a sports team
  • 50 percent were required to participate in drinking contests
  • 66 percent were subjected to humiliating hazing, including being yelled and sworn at, wearing embarrassing clothing, and being deprived of food, sleep or personal hygiene
  • 20 percent experienced hazing that qualified as "potentially illegal," including kidnappings, beatings, and being forced to commit crimes like destroying property or harassing others

Hazing on sports teams is rationalized as a way to build team unity and commitment, and also a way to put cocky freshman "in their place" to maintain the team's power dynamics [source: Farrey]. Hazing persists, in part, because 25 percent of coaches and organizational advisers are aware of hazing activities, but look the other way [source: Allan]. Oddly, some of the sports most likely to haze, according to the Alfred University survey, were swimming, diving and soccer, sports not considered stereotypically "macho" like football or baseball.

While sports-related hazing is largely a male phenomenon, women are no strangers to demeaning initiations. The Alfred University study found widespread alcohol-related hazing on women's sports teams, and there have been several recent high-profile cases of hazing in women's sports, including a softball team at a Catholic college that forced new recruits to simulate sex acts with each other [source: Razzi].

But hazing on college campuses isn't confined to sports and Greeks. As the National Study of Student Hazing showed, 55 percent of all college students experienced some form of hazing and they belonged to every type of group imaginable, including the honor society!