Hazing, Hazing, Hazing!
Contra Costa Times – Walnut Creek California11/04/2007
By Jackie Burrell
A Chico fraternity pledge is forced to drink water until he collapses and dies.
A Chicago high school powderpuff game turns into a melee. A Fremont swim team hazing involves seniors urinating on freshmen on the pool deck.
One would think that with the growing amount of negative publicity surrounding hazings, a strong social taboo would arise against such initiation rituals.
But hazing continues today, permeating college fraternities and sororities, middle and high school bands, athletic teams and church groups.
"For some reason," said Hank Nuwer, a national expert on hazing, "students are basically turning on other students for entertainment and sadistic behavior."
In January, UC Berkeley baseball rookies were discovered late one night in 34-degree weather blindfolded and wearing nothing but G-strings and shoes. In October 2006, a San Ramon Valley High football player was bound, dragged and kicked repeatedly in the groin during a locker room hazing.
And at Chico State, where 21-year-old Pleasant Hill resident Matthew Carrington died in 2005 of water intoxication compounded by hypothermia, members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity's Chico chapter are being prosecuted for forcing pledges to crawl through mud and submerging them up to their necks in icy water.
Those cases pale in comparison with the growing number of teens who have been beaten, sodomized or debased by friends and teammates. In the past month, police and school officials have investigated hazing-related sodomy or sexual assault cases at high schools in Florida, Illinois and Texas, and what appears to be another instance at a New Hampshire middle school.
Initiation rituals may date to antiquity, but modern-day hazing is an unexpected byproduct of World War II and the GI Bill, said Grahaeme Hesp, director of fraternity and sorority life for UC Berkeley. [Ed. Note: Grahaeme Hesp is a SigEp]
"(Veterans) arrived on college campuses, 25-, 35-year-olds," Hesp said, "with the Army philosophy of 'break them down and build them back up' -- this is how you build a team."
That strategy has since lost favor in the military, but it continues to flourish on college campuses and, increasingly, on middle and high school grounds.
"The (Greek) community is more than aware of hazing," Hesp said. "But the challenge still exists in the marching band, athletics -- and it's also gone downward, so it's high school, middle school. Now we have people arriving having gone through some aspect of hazing. The hazed become the hazers."
Universities and national fraternity and sorority chapters have concentrated their efforts on raising awareness and promoting healthy team-building alternatives -- ropes courses, leadership training and a hefty emphasis on aligning values with actions -- but a large subsection of the youth population continues to haze, some without fully grasping what they're doing.
Nearly half the high school students who participate in band, athletics, church groups and other teen organizations have been hazed, researchers at Alfred University reported. Seventy-nine percent of NCAA athletes say they were hazed in high school -- a quarter before they were teens.
It's clear where sexual assaults and beatings lie on the hazing spectrum. But head shavings, embarrassing garb and Speedo runs -- like the one that got a group of athletes suspended at Moraga's Campolindo High last year -- fall into a fuzzier category.
Hesp defines hazing as "anything that makes people feel uncomfortable emotionally, psychologically, physically."
What's team-building fun to one participant, Hesp said, may be deeply humiliating, even traumatic to someone else.
And even mild hazing can have lasting effects, said psychologist Susan Lipkins, author of "Preventing Hazing."
She remembers speaking with a 90-year-old man who was hazed at age 17. He had survived a desperate run through wartorn Europe, only to be hazed at a camp in Israel where he was grabbed and taunted as a burlap sack was pulled over his head. Recounting his story 73 years later, the elderly man flushed with humiliation and remembered feeling helpless.
"There's something about hazing," Lipkins said, "that holds onto your gut."
Meanwhile, the pressure to participate is intense.
"The desire to belong, whether to the baseball team, sorority chapter or marching band -- there is that level of peer pressure," Hesp said. "Everyone else is going along with it."
And often, they don't recognize hazing for what it is -- "the exertion of power over a weaker position," Hesp said.
That's partly why Lipkins isn't surprised hazing is prevalent among teen athletic teams. Coaches authorize their team captains to conduct drills and oversee locker rooms. Vested with that power and authority, she said, senior athletes use hazing as a means of discipline, punishment and reinforcement of a team's power structure.
"This is an unusually competitive culture," Lipkins said. "The pressure to win is so huge. Proving you are more worthy than the next person, winning at all costs. (These) are predisposing factors for a hazing."
Eric Stewart, a Minnesota teen who launched a pro-hazing group on Facebook, calls hazing "a necessary part of life. Without it those damn freshmen and sophomore(s) get cocky and seniors lose power."
Tom Hoyt, a Maryland high school student who oversees the "Hazing Squad," another Facebook group, sees two varieties of hazing.
"The varsity hockey team I was on was really cruel about hazing," he said in an e-mail. "Like dragging (my friend) from the shower room and tying him to a football post right after it had snowed. But I thought it would be fun if hazing was a joke and nobody took it seriously so that stuff like that wouldn't happen. In our school, the only thing we do is talk about hazing and intimidate the underclassmen."
Even tame traditions -- running through a football game in a Speedo, for example, or enforced calisthenics -- can spiral out of control because new hazers often feel compelled to add their own signature twists. One small thing is added, and then another one and another and "suddenly, it's a major issue," Hesp said.
This slippery slope "may be how alcohol consumption has become more extreme," Lipkins said, "and why hazing increasingly skids into the hazardous zone."
Efforts to combat hazing at the college level, Lipkins said, are derailed when high school students pack up their "hazing blueprint" and head to college.
"They do unto others what was done to them," Lipkins said, "and they feel as though they have the right and duty to pass on the tradition."
The result is that hazing prevention has become a Sisyphean task.
The adult role
The only thing that will make hazing stop, Hesp said, is the firm resolve of a coalition of schools, parents, coaches and authorities. Even then, it's easier said than done.
It's a cultural issue, Lipkins said, and change must begin with the attitudes of adults who have repressed or "reframed" the memories of their own hazings to salve their own discomfort.
Despite the presence of anti-hazing policies on nearly every college campus, the practice continues, said University of Maine professor Elizabeth Allan, who recently completed the pilot phase of a hazing study on 52 campuses. And hazing methods have become more severe and demeaning.
Particularly troubling are the pilot study data that found 40 percent of hazed athletes said their coaches knew about the team hazing, and 22 percent said the coaches actually participated.
Hesp finds adult participation and community reaction the most troubling aspects of hazing. He points to the notorious 2003 Chicago powderpuff game, which turned into an alcohol-fueled riot.
News footage, which was aired nationwide, showed senior girls pummeling juniors and dousing them in urine, feces and animal intestines. Several younger girls had to be hospitalized. And those arrested included two mothers who provided kegs.
"The world was shocked by the Chicago powderpuff," Hesp said, "especially when it was videotaped by parents and they did nothing."
It is far too common for adults to portray hazings as locker room horseplay that got out of hand, Lipkins said.
That was the excuse one poster added to an online discussion board last fall, after a San Ramon Valley High football player was assaulted in the locker room.
The school district didn't buy it. Four football players were thrown off the team, district spokesman Terry Koehne said. A parent meeting was called, and the 45-member team underwent three days of sensitivity training.
"It was a serious issue," Koehne said, "and we wanted to make sure we were on top of it."
Hazing was added to California's penal code only after the death of Chico State's Carrington. But in Massachusetts, it has been part of the criminal code for the past two decades, and bystanders who fail to report a hazing are subject to a $1,000 fine.
There has to be a system in place to deal with reported abuse, Lipkins said, and serious consequences must be enforced, not just for hazers but for the spectators who stood by and did nothing.
The message has to come from everyone.
"It has to come," Hesp said, "from the faculty and culture and team and marching band working together to send a collective message."
Reach Jackie Burrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAZING BY THE NUMBERS
48 - Percentage of high school students who have been hazed by members of athletic teams, music, church or other youth groups; 24 percent were hazed as part of a church youth group.
22 - Percentage of high school students who had participated in dangerous hazings; 21 percent of college students have been part of dangerous hazings
71 - Percentage of high school students subjected to hazing who reported negative long-term consequences, including injuries, anger management issues, concentration problems, anxiety, guilt and food and sleeping issues.
79 - Percentage of NCAA athletes hazed in high school; 25 percent were first hazed before age 13.
50 - Percentage of female NCAA Division I athletes who reported being hazed; 10 percent were beaten, branded, tattooed or had their heads shaved against their will.
40 - Percentage of college students who said their coach or club adviser was aware of the hazing; 22 percent reported their coach or adviser was actually involved in the hazing.
-- Sources: Alfred University Hazing Study (1996), Alfred University High School Hazing Study (2000), National Study of Student Hazing (2006 preliminary results)
WARNING SIGNS FOR PARENTS
After dealing with a hazing problem, it's easy to look back and think, "I should have known." But Susan Lipkins, author of "Preventing Hazing," said the warning signs of hazing are so similar to those of other emotional issues that it's easy to miss them.
The following warning signs may indicate your child is involved in a group that hazes as part of its initiation:
1. Adjusts too quickly to new situations and has instant friends.
2. Changes patterns of communication -- frequency, duration or tone.
3. Reduces contact with family and old friends.
4. Rise in new kinds of physical and mental problems -- exhaustion, broken bones, sprains, bruises, cuts and burns, sore throat, stomachaches, severe headaches, hospital visits -- or discrepancies in the student's explanation of the injury.
5. Develops new psychological symptoms -- changes in sleeping and eating patterns, anxiety, irritability, anger and negativity, poor concentration, drop in achievement, picking up obsessions or compulsions.
WHAT TEENS CAN DOSometimes the psychological damage can be worse than the physical, especially if the trauma continues. Tell your parents; tell a doctor; talk to your school psychologist; call the number on the back of your medical insurance card and get a referral for a mental health professional; or call a teen crisis hotline (Contra Costa Crisis Center, 800-833-2900; Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, 800-309-2131).
Teens are not powerless, Lipkins said. There are actions they can take before, during and after a hazing incident to protect themselves:
1. If you intend to join a group that has initiation rites, try to find out what they are.
2. If you still want to participate, consider an exit strategy you can use if you believe you're in danger. For example, if you are one of 10 freshmen joining a football team, gather together beforehand and create a plan, so you can act together to prevent injury.
3. Discuss the definition of hazardous hazing within your group so everyone understands and agrees to act together as a group to stop the event or call authorities.
4. If you are already part of a group that has a tradition to haze at specific times, such as on your birthday, make a choice about participating that day. Any tradition has the potential to skid out of control.
1. Be aware. Try to remember the layout of the area. Read the emotions of the perpetrators. Do not volunteer to be hazed, to be first or to try to please the group.
2. If you are asked to do something that is dangerous, or that you do not want to do, pay attention to your instincts. It can be dangerous to exit during an initiation rite alone. Plan ahead and try to find a group of like-minded individuals.
1. Safety first. If you are not sure you are physically OK, get medical attention. Internal bleeding, fractures and overdoses are serious and need to be attended to as quickly as possible.
2. When you are sure you're OK, get medical attention for others.
3. Be aware of psychological problems -- sleep issues, flashbacks, eating issues, anxiety, avoidance, depression and intense feelings. If you are experiencing any symptoms in these categories, get help.
-- Source: InsideHazing.com