How Hazing Works

How to Prevent Hazing
Family and friends of Armando Villa rally in 2014, to call for an end to fraternity hazing at Cal State Northridge. Villa, a student at CSUN, died while on a hike with fraternity members, reportedly from excessive hazing. Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Despite decades of solemn proclamations from college presidents, or in-depth reports like the one from the GAO about the extent of hazing in the military, hazing continues to be an intractable problem for organizations and institutions.

Elizabeth Allan, a professor of higher education at the University of Maine, who conducted the 2007 National Study of Student Hazing, compares today's anti-hazing efforts to where the anti-bullying movement was 25 years ago. Despite sincere efforts at some institutions to educate students on the dangers of hazing, and better enforce anti-hazing rules, Allan says that we still don't have reliable data telling us what works on college campuses in the battle against hazing.

Allan has partnered with some colleges and universities to institute more effective anti-hazing programming and to collect detailed data on its impact. While it will still be a few years before we have solid information to back it up, Allan can already point to some strategies that hold the most promise, at least for college hazing [source: Allan].

Define Hazing: Institutions need to agree upon and promote a clear and detailed definition of what constitutes hazing. That definition must be communicated clearly to all students, faculty, staff and administration. All campus organizations must sign off on this definition of hazing.

Create Clear Anti-Hazing Policies: Just like the definition of hazing, the rules surrounding hazing activities must be crystal clear. Organizations must agree to these rules with the understanding that any violation of anti-hazing policy, no matter how minor, will result in disciplinary action.

Comprehensive Communication: The responsibility for combating hazing needs to rest with everybody on campus, not just the directors of Greek life. It starts with the university president, who needs to come out strong against hazing and form anti-hazing coalitions on campus that include staff, students and alumni. Hazing awareness and enforcement must be stressed year-round.

Hold Organizations Accountable: Allan says that anti-hazing crusaders can learn something from the ongoing battle against binge drinking. Binge drinking is down slightly on college campuses, and according to a 2016 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, decades of drinking research show that education and "messaging" don't do nearly as much to curb dangerous college drinking as enforcement.

Transparency: Allan says that she's visited campuses where a student was killed during a fraternity hazing just two years earlier, but students were largely unaware of it. Schools need to publicize disciplinary actions against campus groups for all hazing violations, big and small. They need to dedicate a portion of their public communication efforts — on the school website and in the alumni magazine — to reporting on anti-hazing efforts.

Make It Easy to Report: It's not enough for bystanders to recognize hazing when it's happening; they also need to know how to report it. According to the National Study on Student Hazing, a surprising number of hazing activities — 25 percent — took place on campus in public spaces. Students need to know how they can anonymously report hazing that they witness, hear about or experience firsthand.

Promote Alternatives to Hazing: Hazing organizations point to their time-honored "traditions" as ways to create loyalty and a sense of accomplishment. But these same outcomes can be achieved without resorting to demeaning and dangerous activities. Sports teams that train hard together and support one another build unity. Fraternities that take on challenging high-ropes courses and other outdoor adventures create brotherhood and a sense of accomplishment. All it takes is some creativity of the collective will to move beyond hazing.

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