Building Healthy Groups to Prevent Campus Hazing

by Jenny Desmond, M.A. & StopHazing Staff

The start of fall on a college campus is one of the most exciting times of the year.  Organization Fairs, Formal Recruitments, and many other events help students find their ‘home’ outside of their academic majors. With this excitement also comes an opportunity and responsibility for advisors and campus professionals to reinforce and coach students on how to build healthy groups and prevent hazing.

Research on Student Hazing and the Importance of Healthy Groups:

Scholars have found that students may haze others or participate in hazing with the expectation of positive outcomes such as:

  • Having a stronger connection to the group
  • Feeling a sense of accomplishment by proving themselves, earning their place, or feeling worthy of membership in the group
  • Building unity and trust among the group’s members (e.g., Allan & Madden, 2008; Allan et al., 2019; Campo et al., 2005; Keating et al., 2005)

However, these desired outcomes are all achievable without hazing, and research shows that hazing can actually undermine a group’s mission and purpose (Johnson, 2007). Scholars have found there is not a significant relationship between hazing and group cohesion (Lafferty et al., 2017), and groups that experience more hazing have lower levels of perceived cohesion (Van Raalte et al., 2007). As groups bond, build cohesion, build relationships, and learn to communicate effectively, they enhance their ability to achieve their mission and purpose (Johnson et al., 2019; Rugby Ontario, 2020).

Research also shows a higher likelihood of success when new practices and traditions are developed in an inclusive manner, with all group members having an opportunity to provide input – including advisors and mentors (Johnson, 2007; Johnson et al., 2019). The shared development and acceptance of common goals and activities can reinforce the organization’s shared mission and identity (Lee et al., 2011).

Goals of Healthy Groups:

Advisors can play a crucial role in helping leaders establish healthy groups. It is important to create space within trainings or informal settings for intentional dialogue with students about the goals and values of their groups. This can be a strategy to help students buy into the necessity of healthy group dynamics in their organizations and help them identify ways to build a culture that supports the health and well-being of all members.

StopHazing expanded and updated the original ‘Alternatives to Hazing’ resource to provide a guide to Building Healthy Groups and Teams with recommendations to help groups establish goals and plan activities that will contribute to environments where healthy group dynamics provide inclusive spaces, support the well-being of members, and help the group to achieve its goals. Those recommendations include:

Resources to Support Building Healthy Groups:

While the return to campus is an exciting time for everyone, it is also an extremely busy time for campus professionals and organizational staff to support and engage the students joining organizations. To help support campuses and organizations working to prevent hazing and build healthy group dynamics, we are highlighting two resources from StopHazing to help guide discussions and support capacity for hazing prevention.

The 10 Signs of Healthy & Unhealthy Groups: Toolkit is a no-cost resource designed to support understanding and developing group dynamics with another lens and identify healthy behaviors as well as unhealthy behaviors that could result in hazing or other forms of harm.

Building on the Toolkit, StopHazing developed workshop materials to support content delivery. Designed to share the signs and examples of healthy and unhealthy group behaviors and to provide discussion tools for continuing education and reflection on the importance of healthy groups, the resource includes a slide deck and facilitation guide to deliver the workshop to student leaders and their organizations. This training was developed and further refined by feedback from leadership experts in the field. It’s also being evaluated on several campuses and across different types of groups.

It is important to note that not all unhealthy behaviors in groups are necessarily considered hazing; however, they may be warning signs or risk factors that can compromise safety, belonging, and overall well-being. With this in mind, the resource is designed to help individuals reflect and make connections related to hazing and intersecting interpersonal violence issues and can serve as a catalyst for discussion on other topics.

A related resource to support campuses and organizations in developing and maintaining healthy group environments is StandUp to Hazing™ – the new online course to help educate about hazing and its prevention. The 20-minute course introduces students, staff, advisors, and friends to the realities of hazing and how to effectively recognize, build skills to intervene, report, and prevent hazing in their groups by establishing healthy dynamics. The course is research-informed and culturally competent to resonate and support learning in all types of organizations.

We know the importance of involvement and belonging in a college student’s life. Helping students develop skills for recognizing and promoting healthy group dynamics can build competence and empower them to support the well-being of their peers, their organizations, and their communities.

 

References:

Allan, E. J., & Madden, M. (2008). Hazing in view: College students at risk. https://stophazing.org/research/national-hazing-study-hazing-in-view/

Allan, E .J., Kerschner, D. & Payne, J. (2019). College student hazing experiences, attitudes, and perceptions: Implications for prevention. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 56(1) 32-48. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2018.1490303

Campo, S., Poulos, G., & Sipple, J. (2005). Prevalence and profiling: Hazing among college students and points of intervention. American Journal of Health Behavior, 29(2), 137-149. https://doi.org/ 10.5993/ajhb.29.2.5

Johnson, J., Holman, M., & Havey, M. (2019). Anti-hazing toolkit: Making team bonding a safe and positive experience. Physical & Health Education Journal, 84(4), 1-3.

Johnson, J. A. (2007). The effectiveness of orientations as an alternative to traditional hazing practices (Publication No. NR28096) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto]. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Keating, C., Pomerantz, J., Pommer, S., Ritt, S., Miller, L., & McCormick, J. (2005). Going to college and unpacking hazing: A functional approach to decrypting initiation practices among undergraduates. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 9(2), 104-126. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2699.9.2.104

Lafferty, M., Wakefield, C., & Brown, H. (2017). “We do it for the team”: Student-athletes’ initiation practices and their impact on group cohesion. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 15(4), 438-446. https://doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2015.1121507

Lee, C., Farh, J. L., & Chen, Z. J. (2011). Promoting group potency in project teams: The importance of group identification. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32: 1147-1162.

Rugby Ontario. (2020, April 21). Alternatives to Hazing with Jay Johnson, PhD [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4a1DZS1R-g

StopHazing Research Lab. (2021). Building Healthy Groups and Teams: Group goals and activities to promote belonging, well-being, and inclusion. StopHazing Consulting. https://stophazing.org/resources/alternatives

Van Raalte, J., Cornelius, A., Linder, D. & Brewer, B. (2007). The relationship between hazing and team cohesion. Journal of Sports Behavior, 30, 491-507.

About the authors:

Jenny Desmond, M.A., is the Program and Training Specialist for StopHazing. She contributes to the StopHazing mission by providing support for the expansion of e-learning modules, resource development, and training initiatives. Jenny graduated from the University of Maine with a B.A. in Political Science and earned her M.A. in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education from Ball State University. During her career in Student Affairs, Jenny worked in Enrollment Management, overseeing Orientation Leaders and Tour Guides, and in Student Life, directing Fraternity and Sorority Life and Leadership Programs. She brings a practitioner’s perspective and experience to StopHazing’s research-to-practice model.

Established in 1998, StopHazing is a trailblazer in research about hazing and its prevention. StopHazing is the only research-to-practice entity focused solely on hazing and its prevention. StopHazing leads the field in examining intersections between hazing and mental health, systems of power, sexual violence, bullying, alcohol and other substance misuse, and other issues.

StopHazing promotes safe and inclusive school, campus, and organizational environments through research, resource sharing, and the development of data-driven strategies for hazing prevention and the promotion of positive group climates. Taking a community-wide and public health approach to prevention, StopHazing uses the research to shift campus and community cultures away from hazing and toward healthy and inclusive groups and teams.

StopHazing is the public face of the research. StopHazing specializes in conducting high-quality research and using it to develop evidence-based resources and services for administrators, faculty and staff, coaches, advisors and mentors, students, parents/guardians, and family members.

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