Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a research paper written by members of the men’s hockey team in the wake of a recent hazing incident, as provided to USCHO.com by school officials.
The definition of hazing is overly vague. High schools, colleges, and Greek organizations each have different definitions; even states have diverse definitions and sanctions. In the Alfred/NCAA survey of college athletes, hazing is defined as: “any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. [Excluded are] 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” (15).
Hazing is based in tradition and ritual. But practices have metamorphosed over time and now often involve violence and substance abuse. In reality, a variety of organizations have practiced hazing and initiation rituals dating back to over 100 years ago. According to one fraternity, “[h]azing, an issue that is shielded in secrecy, is somewhat accepted because it is seen as fraternities’ dirty little secret–something you endure, participate in and don’t talk about” (5). Coupled with ideas of secrecy, normality, and procedure, many school officials have overlooked hazing allowing that “boys will be boys” (13). However, when serious injury and sexual humiliation occurs as a result of hazing, college officials are obligated to take action against it.
Hazing in athletics happens mostly as a form of initiation or a rite of passage onto a team. Student athletes frequently give in to hazing because they are willing “to do anything” to gain acceptance. Hazing is believed to act as a bonding or unifying experience for athletes, particularly when it is practiced as a form of initiation to welcome, for example, new freshmen to the team. But research shows that hazing can have the opposite effect. It can be more destructive to human relationships than constructive when it relies on substance abuse and/or the performance of acts that are self-destructive, isolating, socially offensive, hurtful, aggressive, uncooperative, or disruptive. The hazing comes at the expense of integrity, respect, civility, and responsibility within the team itself (1).
Colleges differ considerably in their various policies and punishments for activities that they deem as hazing. Individuals, if caught in a hazing activity, may be fined, made to answer to the integrity board, sanctioned educationally, forced to meet with a college administrator, or suspended from extracurricular activities or even college itself. Their lives may be altered and scarred forever. A criminal conviction could foreclose future opportunities and career choices.
The biggest concern with hazing is when a death comes to light. In March 2003, a student at Plattsburgh State University died after he was forced to drink mass amounts of water until he vomited. While it had appeared harmless, the activity caused his brain to swell, eventually causing his death. Individuals invariably face criminal prosecution when a member of a “hazed group” dies during a hazing ritual.
A more recent incident involved the Bowling Green Men’s Varsity Ice Hockey team. On Tuesday, October 19, 2004, seven hockey players were quickly suspended indefinitely after coach Scott Paluch was shown a photograph of a nude player with profanity and racial slurs written on his body (19). The incident was intended to humiliate players in order for them to be welcomed onto an athletic team. But the University said the players violated the student code of conduct but “no evidence of hazing was found” and the players have been reinstated.
As hazing activities force more severe scrutiny, there needs to be some balance with the ethos of team building. For college athletes, becoming a cohesive team on and off the athletic field is extremely important. This cohesion is vital to a team’s survival and success in competition. Strong friendships enhance the college experience for the individual and for the team. Team membership can be protective and offers an easily recognized identity. When strongly bonded off the athletic field, teams are more likely to succeed on the field during competition with added camaraderie and allegiance. Teams can collaborate more effectively and players are more willing to sacrifice themselves to assist one of their teammates (17). Strong group bonding generates trust and establishes team identity. Team building rituals also create a leadership structure.
Team building can support a team in times of crisis. A strong team spirit dispels distrust and internal strife. With the trust, structure, and identity accomplished through group building rituals, a strong team dynamic becomes an important characteristic of any program. And, when individuals understand their various roles on the team, a program’s success can be enhanced.
A student athlete has a duty to maintain team cohesion as well as a responsibility to make positive academic and moral decisions that reflect the school’s mission and the team’s expectations. (S)he must advocate positive behaviors and maintain good social (and academic) standing in the college community, which will in-turn, reflect positively on the team. When a hazing incident occurs, even if only a few players are involved, it reflects negatively on the entire team. The athlete has failed to maintain integrity and live up to team expectations, which hurts the unity and loyalty an athletic team tries so hard to maintain. Players who are aware of the activity must make a choice to become pro-active in stopping the hazing and finding new creative opportunities for team building.
Despite increased publicity, hazing still occurs. Thus, how to evaluate the incident, punish the guilty and prevent further harm becomes a critical focus for college administrations. As a result of the recent growth in hazing awareness, particularly on the collegiate and high school levels (and on a diversified set of other levels as well), administrations and lawmakers are becoming more adept at preventing these harmful and dangerous activities from taking place.
Many believe that the increase in hazing rituals and activities can be attributed to a vagueness in the definition of the word itself. According to a USA Today poll, “…despite only 12% of athletes saying they had been hazed, 80% said they had been required to participate in dangerous or humiliating activities that fit the description of hazing” (20). Without a clear definition, institutions, students, legislators, and enforcement officers can not deal with the problem of hazing. More and more institutions are striving to educate their students on what hazing is, how it is viewed nationally, and more importantly, how it is viewed inside their walls.
At Skidmore, we must help students identify hazing as improper and encourage positive team building behaviors. A clear definition must be agreed upon. Athletes could be required to sign an agreement before the start of the season acknowledging their integrity and responsibility to prevent hazing on all levels. Skidmore, is a small school with a strong, intimate, supportive community that can be utilized to engage all members in the possibility of being respectful and encouraging of each other.
Broader social change to eliminate hazing will occur only through education and communication. Justifications that mask hazing rituals will eventually disappear with increasing awareness and openness. Parents can be included in the discussion so that younger athletes become aware of behaviors that are not acceptable, feel comfortable discussing them, and will be more likely not to “keep the secret” to be accepted. Whether it means holding all-school assemblies, making annual hazing education talks mandatory, and publishing more stories and tragedies that involve hazing, the country must attempt to solve this growing hazing problem in as many ways possible. Through “heightened sensitivity” and a realization of just how severe the consequences to hidden fallacies can be, hazing will no longer be seen as simply a harmless tradition (5).
-Written by members of the Varsity Men’s Ice Hockey Team
3) “Hazing Rules,” The Daily Camera: News, Oct. 9, 2004: http://www.bouldernews.com/bdc/bufferzone_news/article/0,1713,BDC_2448_3242132
5) Kappa Alpha. “Hazing: The Fratricide of Brotherhood,” Kappa Alpha Order: http://www.kappaalphaorder.org/resources/materials/hazing_fratricide.asp
6) Lewis, Jesse. “Women’s Lacrosse Caught Hazing,” Arizona Daily Wildcat, Feb. 24, 2004: http://wildcat.arizona.edu/papers/97/103/01_2.html
8) McDonald, Matt. School Seeks Ways to Eradicate Hazing.; Boston Globe. Boston, MA.: Oct 27, 2004.; http://proquest.umi.com
9) McEntire, Sarah. “Alcohol Advising,” The Oklahoma Daily, Oct. 6, 2004: http://www.outdaily.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/10/06/416378021a3eb
10) Michelle Kruppa St. Tammany bureau. SLU bans fraternity in hazing incident; Mandeville pledge suffered hypothermia.: Times-Picayune. New Orleans, LA.: Jan 10, 2003.; http://proquest.umi.com
11) “Plum Coach Suspended Over Dumpster Hazing,” The Pittsburgh Channel, Feb. 24, 2004: http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/education/2869941/detail.html
13) Segrave, Jeff. Athletic Director at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.
14) UVM Case Study. “Recommendations to enhance UVM’s ability to respond to allegations and incidents of hazing.”
16) Suggs, Welch. University of Vermont settles hazing case for $80,000; The Chronicle of Higher Education.: Washington: Sep 15, 2000. Vol.47, lss 3; http://proquest.umi.com
19) USCHO Staff. Suspended Bowling green Players Miss Weekend: Apparent Hazing Incident Precipitates Seven Suspensions.: Oct 29, 2004. http://www.uscho.com/news/2004/10/29
20) Weir, Tom. “Hazing Issue’s Lasting Impact Rears Ugly Head Across USA,” USA Today, Dec. 12, 2003: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/preps/2003-12-09-hazing_x.htm