Hazing began as a way to welcome new members into a closed society. The practice has roots that date back to the ancient and medieval eras. Today, hazing is considered a criminal offense in the majority of the United States. This is, in part, because of the number of students who have been fatally injured from being hazed. In addition to the state and federal laws condemning hazing, other initiatives are being taken to prevent fraternity hazing on college campuses by universities and watchdog organizations.
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Understanding Why College Students Participate in Hazing
For hundreds of years, fraternities and sororities have hazed potential pledges to humiliate them as a way of testing their devotion and helping them bond through a shared experience. However, within the past two centuries, particularly following the Civil War, fraternity members started using military hazing tactics in colleges. As a result of more violent and dangerous hazing, dozens of people have died from injuries and accidents in just the past decade.
Hank Nuwer, an Assistant Professor of Journalism at Franklin College and Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, has studied hazing and come up with his own theory as to why individuals take part in hazing rituals—even if they would consider themselves to be “morally” good. In an interview with NPR, Nuwer said, “The power in a group-think type of mentality, where everybody is willing to do anything to keep the esprit de corps [common spirit of the group], leads to individuals acting as they would not ordinarily because they’re in the group.” The power of the group is also what keeps students from resisting or reporting hazing.
Examples of Hazing at Universities
Hazing is not specific to fraternities, as many other campus groups have initiation rituals. As mentioned, dozens of students have died from hazing practices. In the recent past, Robert Champion and Tim Piazza were both victims.
In 2011, drum major Robert Champion was attending Florida A&M University. As part of Marching 100’s hazing ritual, the university’s marching band members were repeatedly beaten in a ceremony called “Crossing Bus C.” The ritual was meant to gain respect from upperclassmen. Champion participated like many others, but his injuries were fatal. According to Champion’s autopsy, the blunt force trauma his body experienced resulted in hemorrhagic shock. Police questions members of the band, some were convicted in trial and sentenced to house arrest and community service, and the university’s president and band director resigned.
In another fatal hazing incident, Tim Piazza, a Penn State student and Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge, took part in a ceremony that the organization referred to as “the gauntlet.” The ritual involved consuming a high volume of alcohol. After drinking the alcohol, Piazza fell and hit his head repeatedly, and tumbled down a staircase. He died the next morning. As a result of his death, Penn State passed anti-hazing legislation, providing stricter punishment and a tiered penalty system for fraternity and sorority members across Pennsylvania.
How to Stop Fraternity Hazing
Universities and their organizations need to take steps to prevent fraternity hazing. Pledges are at risk of serious injury or death anytime hazing occurs. Colleges need to look into reducing the power differential been existing members and pledges and work to develop an anti-hazing policy. Greek-life organizations and other groups on campuses need to be willing to amend traditions and take advantage of campus resources.
As individuals, there are actions students can take to prevent hazing in university organizations. Some of those actions include:
- Learning about hazing and its signs
- Researching and understanding university policies and local laws
- Beginning a hazing prevention movement on campus
- Starting a new organization that bans hazing
- Reporting instances of hazing to the proper authorities
When hazing is not recognized and adequately addressed, it becomes a systemic, self-perpetuating problem. If you’ve experienced hazing or witnessed hazing rituals take place, you can call the national, toll-free, anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293). The hotline is confidential, but any information reported is transmitted into an email and sent to the fraternity or sorority named in the phone call. Students and parents also have the option of accessing additional resources through campaigns like StopHazing.
Learn About Your Legal Options
If you’ve been a victim of hazing while trying to join an organization at your university, a fraternity hazing attorney from Thomas Law Offices can help. Taking legal action against the organization or your college can be challenging—especially by yourself. That’s why we’re here to provide you with quality legal representation. To learn more about what to do after you’ve been hazed, contact our law firm today.