Hazing, Stoppable or Not? That is the Question.

By Michelle Altman

When it comes to certain stories, such as “Edward 40-hands,” downing three gallons of milk after eating raw meat, or students using red pens to encircle “ugly” body parts, the topic of hazing seems known by most, and to some, more than they would like.

“[Hazing],” according to Chad Ellsworth, president-elect of HazingPrevention.org and coordinator of Fraternity/Sorority Life at the University of Minnesota, usually “take[s] different forms within three categories: physical, psychological or alcoholic.”

However, new research from the University of Maine and hazing prevention initiatives has sought to answer the daunting question: Can such harmful acts be stopped? According to Ellsworth, “Yes, [hazing can] absolutely” be stopped.

Overall, Ellsworth said this year is going to end on a positive note.

“The big thing … to strive for is no more hazing-related deaths, and this year’s shaping up to be the first calendar year where nobody has died from a hazing incident,” he said.

Shawn McGuirk, assistant dean of students at the University of Massachusetts, emphasized that hazing is “something we have to take very seriously,” and can result in “expulsion … depending on the circumstances.”

Ellsworth feels, despite these sanctions, hazing still remains prevalent.

“It does meet some needs,” he said. “People think it bonds people to a group, and research shows that it does bond people together, however, they don’t bond with the [hazers], but rather … with the people they [get hazed] with.”

However, Ellsworths says that this is not the type of bonding that these organizations are looking for.,

“[The organization wants] bonding with the organization as well as others, but only the goal of bonding with others being hazed [is satisfactory],” he said

Michael Wiseman, director of fraternities and sororities at UMass, said many organizations provide positive alternatives.

“Most organizations provide directions and activities that organizations can use to facilitate the ‘rites of passage’ in a way that is positive and meaningful, and we need to assist the groups in incorporating these practices into the organization’s life,” he said.

Wiseman also feels it is necessary to “address all the contexts in which hazing occurs in order to eradicate [hazing] at UMass.” Ellsworth similarly noted. “If we’re going to make a difference in [hazing prevention], we have to attack the culture.”

According to McGuirk, the main obstacle to hazing prevention “is getting people to be comfortable reporting it.” Which, according to Wiseman is “peer pressure at work. Is it cool to stand up and stop something that others strongly feel is a necessary part of the ‘rite of passage?’”

According to the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention, “A guiding framework and a national call to action for hazing prevention in education settings,” was put out, which includes “increas[ing] the extent to which hazing is considered a priority health and safety issue … advance research about hazing … increase[d] available evidence about effective hazing prevention…[and] build[ing] campus, school and community capacity to develop hazing-free environments.”

“Students and student leaders need to be actively engaged in conversations about hazing with their peers and with their advisors,” he said.

Wise said that he wants “the new fall student orientation program [to be] a place where we can have conversations with the incoming class [to] inform them as to what their rights are as individuals and UMass students, and to clearly state … that hazing is not an acceptable practice on this campus.”

McGuirk suggested victims “remain anonymous, sit down and talk with anyone in [the Dean of Students Office, who will] provide as much assistance as [they] can.”
“If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it,” Wiseman said.

“Completely 100 percent stopped anywhere would be very difficult,” said McGuirk. “We strive for it, but 100 percent [prevention] is very hard.”
“It [will be] a long journey,” however, “every social movement has taken a long time but it’s been worth it,” Wiseman said.

Michelle Altman can be reached at [email protected]