One of the most perplexing questions higher education professionals and inter/national organization headquarters staff struggle to answer is how hazing can be prevented and abolished on college campuses. There is no doubt that a great deal of resources, preventative education, and advocates are fighting to answer this question, but so far, there has been no solution to end hazing. Thus, it is not a lack of ‘will,’ but more so the fact that hazing is a complex issue.
Before being able to answer the question at hand, one must first ponder some of the unique complexities of hazing. For starters, hazing is not a new phenomenon; hazing can be traced back to ancient Greece, Rome, and even institutions of learning from the Middle Ages, where hazing was used to teach students obedience and discipline (Bruckner, 2019, p.465). Furthermore, hazing is not isolated to only impacting fraternities and sororities. Research and incident history show that academic clubs, marching bands, athletic teams, and other groups face hazing issues. Hazing has also been known to occur in middle and high school settings before students even set foot on a college campus.
An additional complexity of hazing is its broad spectrum (The Spectrum of HazingTM | StopHazing | Hazing Prevention Resource, 2023). The hazing spectrum is divided into intimidation, harassment, and violence. The spectrum becomes even more complex as behaviors and categories of hazing can overlap and/or the frequencies in occurrence vary. Therefore, finding a solution to eliminate one category or type of hazing becomes more difficult.
Due to the complexities that exist in the effort to prevent and end hazing, organizational headquarters have an obligation and a unique opportunity to contribute to the work being done by empowering their members to help prevent and end hazing. Erle Morring once said,
Empowered student leaders are the most effective tools available today to combat hazing on college campuses. These men and women must create an atmosphere geared toward the implementation of effective organizational change. By breaking through the barriers of secrecy, reevaluating traditions, and putting good versus bad in perspective, we will begin to achieve the realistic results we so desperately desire (Morring, n.d.).
Erle’s quote rings true when applied to the headquarters perspective, as one’s role in empowering members not to haze and to end hazing is helping the chapter and organization break through the barriers of secrecy, reevaluate traditions, and put good versus bad into perspective.
Breaking through the barriers
Breaking through the barriers of secrecy can be done by helping members understand the power differential. Power differential, in summary, is the difference between members with authority and those that are in a lesser position or status (The Spectrum of HazingTM | StopHazing | Hazing Prevention Resource, 2023). Power differential hazing can lead to new members being vulnerable. Often, members do not realize that power differential hazing can damage the chapter culture and relationships between members and cause unhealthy dynamics between new and old members. It is important to remind members that power differential hazing goes against the core values of brotherhood and sisterhood.
When groups face hazing allegations or have been found responsible for hazing, it is not uncommon to hear members say, “This has always been a tradition” or “We learned it from our alumni.” When members make these comments, they are more than likely being truthful. Many traditions in chapters start as harmless activities, but the traditions take on a new shape or meaning over time. As a headquarters, it is essential to develop a curriculum that helps chapters evaluate whether or not traditions and practices align with the organization’s values, but also whether or not they violate university and organization policies. Additionally, training alumni on the importance of discarding outdated traditions and fostering a culture of inclusiveness is critical in eliminating hazing from chapter culture.
Put good versus bad into perspective
As many organizations consist of young college students trying to grow and better understand life, evaluating potential hazing and putting good versus bad into perspective can be challenging. Furthermore, headquarters should challenge members to reflect upon their new member process after each period of intake by having them identify ways to improve and components that should be left out in the future. An inter/national headquarters must ensure that an advisor or support person is present to help the chapter reflect on its process. To be preventative and to help shape the perspective of members, headquarters staff should provide an opportunity for members to gain an understanding of how hazing violates the organization’s core values. Members should then take that knowledge to explain to others how the chapter is beneficial and how hazing is not needed to build a thriving brotherhood or sisterhood.
Hazing has long been a part of the college culture, and data shows that hazing prevention, education, and, ultimately, abolishment are essential. The battle to end hazing is not on the shoulders of one individual but on the shoulders of everyone who has been placed in a position to protect and nurture members. Headquarters play a unique role in the empowerment that members feel, as their feelings of empowerment are highly motivated by their organization’s rituals, alumni, and staff. Thus, the challenge to empower members is simple: break down the barriers of hazing culture, get to the root cause by eliminating outdated traditions, and shape the perspective of members so they will learn that brotherhood and sisterhood are not created by hazing but by the shared values of the organization.
Bruckner, H. (2018). Students Fall Victim to Hazing Epidemic: Unity at What Cost? Touro Law Review, 34(2), 459–493. https://eds.s.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=2118bdf1-a775-4dcc-9ffa-10105 dbe5c3e%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZzaXRlPWVkcy1saXZlJnNjb3BlPX NpdGU%3d#AN=132554504&db=ofs
Morring, E. (n.d.). Addressing hazing concerns. Addressing Hazing Concerns : Hazing Prevention : Fraternity and Sorority Affairs : University of Rochester. https://www.rochester.edu/college/fsa/hazing/ideas.html
The Spectrum of HazingTM | StopHazing | Hazing Prevention Resource. (2023, July 18). stophazing.org. https://stophazing.org/resources/spectrum/
About the author:
Steadman Boston is a graduate of Winthrop University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Middle-Level Education with a focus on Math and Science. In 2020 Steadman graduated from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Administration and is currently working on his Doctoral Degree in Higher Education Leadership at Northcentral University. Steadman currently serves as the Director of Accountability for Sigma Alpha Epsilon.