Hazing is the act of forcing someone to go through humiliating or abusive activities in order to initiate them into a group. Hazing is particularly common in sororities, fraternities, and military groups, among others. The activities involved with hazing can range from mild, harmless pranks, to behavior for which its perpetrators can be deemed criminally liable. To explore this concept, consider the following hazing definition.
Definition of Hazing
- The act of forcing humiliating or abusive tasks upon someone in order to ridicule him, or to initiate him into a group.
Late 17th Century Middle French haser (to irritate or annoy)
What is Hazing
Hazing is a common practice in college sororities and fraternities, as well as military groups, sports teams, and gangs, which involves subjecting a potential member to a series of humiliating or abusive activities as a way to initiate him or her into the group. Hazing can be harmless, or it can have serious, long-term consequences, such as physical or psychological abuse. Hazing is typically against the law.
The purpose of hazing, supposedly, is to build solidarity among the group’s members. Hazing also forces a deep sense of loyalty within the newcomer (also known as a “pledge”), as it is believed that those who have to suffer to get into the group will treat their membership more seriously, and will defend it more vigorously than those who have to do little or nothing in order to be accepted. This is why, when groups engage in behavior that can be considered criminal, their members do not always come forward to “rat out” those responsible.
Severity of Hazing
Hazing varies by degree, but may include such activities as sending new recruits on what are called “snipe hunts,” or “wild goose chase,” in which they are given a task that is impossible to carry out. For example, a group of soldiers instructing newbies to find “fallopian tubes,” or “K-9P lubricant” (canine pee), or Boy Scouts (yes, even the Boy Scouts) asking a newcomer to find “100 feet of shoreline.”
In comparison to some of the other things a pledge might be asked to do, snipe hunts are perhaps the mildest and the least offensive examples of hazing. Physical punishments for failing to comply can include spanking, paddling (which sounds harmless, but can actually lead to severe injuries), and even putting pledges in stocks. People being hazed have been covered in dirt, food (sometimes even rotten food), or urine, and they have been coated in baby oil or olive oil, then commanded to engage in such tasks as climbing up a pole.
When it comes to examples of hazing, if it can be imagined, it has probably been done. Everything from forcing a pledge to clean up feces or dead animals that were deliberately put in a certain location by the group, to excessive calisthenics, groveling at group members’ feet, and eating or drinking disgusting things that may or may not be food, have all been done in the name of initiation.
Things start to get serious, though, when a pledge is subjected to certain behaviors that can have long-standing consequences. Examples of hazing at a cruel and even serious level include sleep deprivation that goes on for so long that it starts to cause hallucinations or other mental impairment, or to interfere with the pledge’s bodily functions, such as those relating to the heart and digestive system. The bigger the group that is doing the hazing, the worse the hazing can be. For example, if the group is one that controls the local hospitals, the pledge might experience abuse or neglect when he or she tries to seek treatment from one of these hospitals.
Groups may also engage in what is referred to as “The Silence,” which is when members, when confronted, pretend like the hazing never even happened, forcing the pledge to doubt whether or not he or she is crazy for thinking that it did. “The Silence” may also be invoked as a way to cover up a group’s actions that violate a pledge’s civil rights or the law. These actions are committed in secrecy, often making it look like whatever goes wrong is actually the pledge’s fault. Under “The Silence,” members may speak in code when passing on instructions to a pledge, so that the orders cannot be traced back to the group or individual members.
College Hazing Examples
College hazing can be very cruel, and both sororities and fraternities across the nation have engaged in some infamous and cruel acts. A few examples of the lengths to which college hazing has gone include:
- One college student reported that her sorority “sisters” gave her an ultimatum: she could either commit a sexual act in front of them, or do a hit of cocaine.
- In 2010, sorority members at Rutgers University were arrested on charges of aggravated hazing, after having beaten at least three pledges,though the true number is thought to be closer to seven. One girl was beaten so badly with a paddle (over 200 times over the course of eight days), that she had to go to the hospital because she could not sit down as a result of developing welts and blood clots across her buttocks.
- In 2009, two fraternity members at California Polytechnic State University were arrested after their hazing of an 18-year-old freshman resulted in the boy’s death. Hehad been forced to drink an inordinate amount of alcohol within a 90-minute period, which led to a blood alcohol level at the time of his death of 44 – over five times the legal limit for driving.
- In 2015, a Dartmouth College fraternity was criminally investigated after they reportedly forced pledges to chug cups filled with vinegar, swim in kiddie pools that they had filled with rotten food, vomit, and bodily fluids, and to eat omelets made from vomit. This was after the same fraternity had been put on probation three years earlier for engaging in hazing-related activities.
This handful of examples proves that college hazing is no joke. Just because those involved may be young adults, does not mean that they are any less capable of engaging in cruel and potentially criminal behavior.
While there are a significant number of hazing deaths on record, it is impossible to know for sure just how many people have died from these reckless activities, simply because there is no formal system in place to track the information. In most cases, disagreement exists as to whether or not hazing actually played a role in causing serious injuries or death, as the groups are well-practiced in covering up their activities.
That being said, the first recorded hazing death occurred in 1838, when John Butler Groves died in a class hazing at Franklin Seminary in Kentucky. No details are available, as Groves’ death is recorded in his family’s historical records as being the result of hazing.
The first hazing death in which the details are known, and which were confirmed to be attributed to hazing, occurred in 1847. The victim was Jonathan D. Torrance, a freshman at Amherst College in Massachusetts, who died in a class hazing. Torrance was forced to leave school after contracting a severe illness that he attributed to his classmates having soaked his sheets in a hazing ritual. He eventually died from his illness, and Amherst’s president at the time, Edward Hitchcock, blamed Torrance’s death on hazing rituals, which were also referred to as “freshman visitation.”
Since then, hazing deaths have steadily continued throughout the years. On November 17, 2014, Trevor Duffy was being initiated into the Zeta Beta Tau, a fraternity unaffiliated with the University of Albany, New York. Duffy, who was 19 years old, died of alcohol poisoning two days after being forced to drink an entire a 60-ounce bottle of Vodka. His blood alcohol content was 0.58 – far higher than the level known to be fatal to nearly everyone, which is between about 0.35 and 0.4.
In 1992, Marc Anderson and 11 other members of the lacrosse club at Western Illinois University were brought up on criminal charges in the hazing-related death of Nicholas Haben. The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the lower court’s decision that the hazing statute was “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.” Haben died from alcohol poisoning after he and eight of his fellow lacrosse players were led out into the woods near the college’s campus, where they were swatted and made to drink a mixture of beer, coffee, schnapps, tuna, eggs, and hot dogs.
Three of the 12 students who were criminally charged were expelled from the school, and the rest were put on suspension for upwards of a year. The lacrosse club itself was suspended from play for five years, and other recognized initiates into the fraternity were disciplined, and ordered to participate in alcohol education programs.
Not surprisingly, a good number of hazing statistics involve students on college campuses, though hazing occurs at the high school level as well. Some of the more notable hazing statistics involving students include:
- Nearly one in five students have experienced some sort of hazing simply because they reached a certain age or grade level – it had nothing at all to do with voluntary action on their part.
- Three out of ten students admit that they would be willing to partake in illegal activity as part of a group initiation.
- One out of every four student athletes has been involved in a hazing before reaching 13 years of age.
- Hazing in college sports has increased by a whopping 300% since 1978.
- Sadly, 22% of students who have been the victims of a hazing have reported that a coach or advisor took part in the hazing.
- It is estimated that 1.5 million high school students are hazed annually.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Blood Alcohol Content (“BAC”) – The concentration of alcohol in one’s blood, expressed as a percentage of the total volume of the sample.