Dangers and impacts of college hazing: Research roundup

(Photo by Carmen Clemente www.carmenclemente.com)

Every year, college students are injured or killed during events associated with hazing. Often, violence, heavy drinking and humiliation are part of the rituals students endure to gain acceptance into a popular group on campus. At times, sleep deprivation, nudity and sex acts also are involved. While college hazing is most commonly associated with fraternities and sororities, other organizations participate as well, including sports teams and marching bands. While many states have made hazing a crime, only some have made it a felony. In 2012, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson introduced legislation that would have made the activity a federal offense and stripped participating students of their financial aid. Her effort, however, was unsuccessful. Colleges and universities nationwide prohibit hazing but struggle to prevent it even after launching multiple programs over the years to encourage students to avoid such activities and report them.

It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of college hazing because no organization formally tracks it. Higher-education institutions generally do not monitor hazing incidents or allegations. Hazing is not on the list of student offenses that must be reported to the U.S. Department of Education under the federal Clery Act, formally known as the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Non-profit and news agencies generally rely on hazing statistics that are based on older studies such as the often-cited 2008 study from the University of Maine, “Hazing in View: College Students at Risk.” That study, done in partnership with several fraternities and sororities, found that 55% of college students who are involved in clubs, teams and organizations have experienced hazing. Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor and social critic whose specialty is hazing, monitors published accounts of hazing-related deaths and keeps a running tally on his website.

Hazing is an issue that journalists who are on the education and crime beats – especially those working near large universities — may need to cover on a regular basis. It is a topic of intense interest to parents and educators and one that requires extensive time to cover well. A reporter could be writing about a single hazing incident for a year or longer because a hazing-related death or a serious injury often prompts multiple investigations by authorities, one or more lawsuits from families and a variety of new anti-hazing efforts from students, school leadership and, sometimes, lawmakers. Breaking news about hazing happens year-round. For example, in October 2015, the parents of a West Virginia University freshman who died after drinking excessively during a pledge event filed a lawsuit against the school. In September 2015, a grand jury in Pennsylvania recommended murder charges for five fraternity members accused in the hazing death of a Baruch College student. In August 2015, a new witness came forward in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a Clemson University student who died during an alleged hazing.

As journalists explore the issue from various angles, this selection of academic research and other reports will help inform their reporting:


“Hazed and Confused: The Rohm Incident and the Necessity of Hazing Legislation”
Gurbacki, Karrie. Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law, April 2015, Vol. 4.

Summary: This article offers insights into the history of hazing among different social and academic groups and explores the need for changes in state laws dealing with hazing and its effects.


“Prevalence and Profiling: Hazing Among College Students and Points of Intervention”
Campo, Shelly; Poulos, Gretchen; Sipple, John W. American Journal of Health Behavior, March 2005. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.29.2.5.

Summary: This study examines university student attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs about hazing. It found that 36% of students surveyed participated in hazing and that Greeks, males, varsity athletes, student leaders and upperclassmen were more likely to engage in hazing. It also suggests that many students do not recognize hazing when they experience it.


“Hazing as Crime: An Empirical analysis of Criminological Antecedents”
Parks, Gregory S.; Jones, Shayne E.; Hughey, Matthew W. Law & Psychology Review, 2015, Vol. 39.

Summary: Because little research has been done by legal scholars on the topic of hazing in recent years, this study seeks to fill the void. It explores “hazing as a criminal legal issue and the extent to which social science helps elucidate why hazing persists and the factors that may militate against it.”


“White Boys Drink, Black Girls Yell . . . : A Racialized and Gendered Analysis of Violent Hazing and the Law”
Parks, Gregory S.; et al. Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, 2015.

Summary: “In this article, the authors theorize that legally consequential behavior is influenced by race and sex. Specifically, this article contends that hazing, as a form of legally consequential behavior, manifests itself quite differently within BGLOs [Black Greek Letter Organizations] than within their white counterpart organizations. Specifically, this article finds that hazing in Black fraternities is more physically violent. The authors contend that prevailing and yet provincial notions of Black masculinity in the United States underscore the violent nature of Black fraternity hazing.”


“Male Team Sport Hazing Initiations in a Culture of Decreasing Homohysteria”
Anderson, Eric; McCormack, Mark; Lee, Harry. Journal of Adolescent Research, July 2012, Vol. 27. doi: 10.1177/0743558411412957.

Abstract: “In this longitudinal ethnographic research, we report on seven years of hazing rituals on two separate men’s sports teams at one university in the United Kingdom. Using 38 in-depth interviews alongside naturalistic observations of the initiation rituals, we demonstrate that hazing activities have changed from being centered around homophobic same-sex activities to focusing on extreme levels of alcohol consumption. We show that whereas same-sex activities once occurred paradoxically to prohibit them, today these initiations open up the possibility of same-sex behaviors for young men in the life stage of emergent adulthood.”


“Hazing and Initiation Ceremonies in University Sport: Setting the Scene for Further Research in the United Kingdom”
Groves, Mark; Griggs, Gerald; Leflay, Kathryn. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 2012, Vol. 15. doi:10.1080/03031853.2011.625287.

Abstract: “In recent years, the pervasive practice of student initiation ceremonies into university sports teams has become widely reported in the British media. Such initiations have been likened to the practice known as hazing, which is prevalent in universities across the U.S.A. Although there is some research that has considered how and why hazing occurs in American universities, less attention has been paid to the initiation ceremonies that regularly occur in British institutions. This article provides an overview of some of the literature that has examined the practice of hazing in the U.S.A. in order to set the scene for much needed research in the U.K.”


“Hazing: Hidden Campus Crime”
Hollmann, Barbara B. New Directions for Student Services, Fall 2002. doi: 10.1002/ss.57.

Abstract: “Initiation traditions and rites of passage are important for group and team membership, but the violent behavior and alcohol abuse involved in hazing constitute serious campus crime. This chapter helps campus administrators develop new strategies for attacking the hidden crime of hazing.”


“Traumatic Injuries Caused by Hazing Practices”
Finkel, Michelle A. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 2002, Vol. 20. doi: 10.1053/ajem.2002.32649.

Abstract: “Hazing is defined as committing acts against an individual or forcing an individual into committing an act that creates a risk for harm in order for the individual to be initiated into or affiliated with an organization. Hazing is an enduring activity with roots that date back to the ancient and medieval eras. It has become increasingly prevalent in fraternities and sororities, high school and college athletic organizations, the military, professional sports teams, and street gangs. Scant information is available in the medical literature regarding hazing. This article reviews the history of hazing, provides statistics regarding its prevalence, presents information on specific hazing practices and consequent traumatic injuries, and assesses alcohol’s influence on hazing. It also offers recommendations on how to recognize victims of hazing in the Emergency Department and proposes guidelines for their treatment. Current legislation and information on the prevention of traumatic injuries from hazing are discussed.”


“Bullying Victimization Among College Students: Negative Consequences for Alcohol Use”
Rospenda, Kathleen M.; et al. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 2013, Vol. 32. doi: 10.1080/10550887.2013.849971.

Abstract: “This study reports the prevalence of bullying victimization at school and work among college freshmen and the relationships between victimization and changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol problems. Web survey data at two time points from a sample of 2,118 freshmen from eight colleges and universities in the midwestern United States indicated that 43% of students experienced bullying at school and that 33% of students experienced bullying at work. Bullying, particularly at school, consistently predicted alcohol consumption and problematic drinking, after controlling for baseline drinking and other school and work stressors.”


“Hazing Rites/Rights: Using Outdoor- and Adventure Education-Based Orientation to Effect Positive Change for First-Year Athletes”
Johnson, Jay; Chin, Jessica W. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, August 2015. doi:10.1080/14729679.2015.1050681.

Summary: This study examines outdoor-based and adventure education-based orientation as an alternative to traditional forms of orientation for sports teams. The study “highlights some of the promising possibilities for creating new welcoming traditions for collegiate athletic teams.”


“Hazing in Public Schools: A Liability Challenge for School Leaders”
Essex, Nathan L. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 2014, Vol. 87. doi: 10.1080/00098655.2014.936809.

Abstract: “Hazing in public schools is a significant problem that may result in serious physical or emotional harm to students who are victims. According to experts in the field, each year more than 1,500,000 American students become new hazing victims. Hazing also results in legal challenges for school personnel. The courts consider public schools to be safe places where teaching and learning occur in a peaceful environment. Thus, school personnel have a leading responsibility to protect the safety of students under the functional custody of their schools. Hazing activities, if not checked, pose a threat to the health and safety of students. Hazing by its very nature is a private act. Consequently, a significant number of hazing acts goes unreported. Hazing has become so prevalent that it has prompted 44 states to pass legislation banning it. Despite anti-hazing laws, hazing continues to occur among athletes, peer groups, gangs, and other schools clubs and organizations. Hazing creates stress, anxiety, intimidation, and often results in physical and emotional harm to victims. Well-defined policies prohibiting hazing and proper procedures for reporting hazing, coupled with vigilance by school personnel, in monitoring student activities may greatly reduce hazing incidents and minimize potential liability claims for school personnel.”


“Hazing in the U.S. Armed Forces: Recommendations for Hazing Prevention Policy and Practice”
Keller, Kirsten; et al. Report from the RAND Corporation, 2015.

Summary: Initiation activities have long been part of U.S. military culture as a way to mark signi­ficant transitions, status changes, and group membership. However, along with these activities have often come acts of hazing, in which individuals were subjected to abusive and harmful treatment that went beyond sanctioned ceremonies. In recent years, extreme cases of alleged hazing have led to the high-profi­le deaths of several service members, resulting in renewed interest from the public and Congress in seeing these hazing rituals eliminated from military culture … In this report, we address ways to improve the armed forces’ definition of hazing, the effects of and motivations for hazing, how the armed forces can prevent and respond to hazing, and how the armed forces can improve the tracking of hazing incidents.”


Keywords: Greek life, hazing ritual, Robert Champion, Matthew Carrington, Chad Meredith, Gary DeVercelly Jr., Arman Partamian, Nolan Burch, Chun “Michael” Deng, Tucker Hipps

Last updated: November 4, 2015


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