Jennifer Somers, Editor |
No longer a child but still not old enough to navigate the world entirely on their own, college years are a strange part of a person’s life. Suddenly cut off from the safety net of their parents, young adults often rely on the approval and support of their peers.
According to a national study conducted by Dr. Elizabeth J. Allan, a professor at the University of Maine, approximately 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams or organizations experience hazing every year.
The state of Missouri defines hazing as “a willful act…directed against a student or a prospective member of an organization…that recklessly endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or prospective member for the purpose of initiation or admission into or continued membership in any such organization to the extent that such person is knowingly placed at probable risk of the loss of life or probable bodily or psychological harm.”
According to Missouri law, hazing is a class A misdemeanor, unless the act creates a substantial risk to the life of the student or prospective member, in which case it is a class C felony. In all hazing civil suits or homicide cases arising out of hazing activity, the law also states that the victim’s consent cannot be used as a defense due to the influence of peer pressure and the desire to belong to a group.
A recent increase of hazing activity at universities across the U.S. has caused some schools to consider doing away with Greek life altogether.
At the University of Michigan, parties and pledging activities at most of the fraternities have been suspended, according to the New York Times, in the wake of “more than 30 hospital transports during the weekend of the Michigan-Michigan State football game, an unauthorized ‘Champagne and Shackles Event,’ allegations of drugging fraternity members, hazing in which pledges we put in near-death experiences and sexual misconduct cases involving fraternity members.”
Because it has become a new norm, nine out of every 10 students who have experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to have been hazed. Out of the students who were able to identify their experience as hazing, only 5 percent reported the events to campus officials.
These students stay silent due to fear of going against their peers and disbelief that authority will do anything to prevent it from occurring.
Though hazing can take various forms, it most often involves alcohol, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation or sexual acts.
In September of 2014, a 19-year-old Sigma Phi Epsilon pledge at Clemson University named Tucker Hipps, was allegedly forced to walk along a narrow bridge railing before falling head first into the shallow waters of Lake Hartwell. According to a lawsuit settled by Hipps’ parents against the university, Sigma Phi Epsilon and three fraternity members, the fraternity brothers took no action to find Hipps and didn’t contact the police for seven hours.
This February, Penn State made headlines after a 19-year-old student died as a result of hazing. According to an article posted by NPR, the student pledge, Timothy Piazza, was at a Beta Theta Pi Bid Acceptance Night when he drunkenly fell down the stairs and sustained traumatic brain injuries and a ruptured spleen. An ambulance was called nearly six hours later.
With the aid of security cameras, police were able to see that Piazza had been given 18 drinks in 82 minutes by fraternity brothers. Penn State has since shut down Beta Theta Pi, and 25 members are now facing charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to aggravated assault and hazing because of the incident.
Hazing is a ritual of power and control over others. It is not about promoting unity or bringing the group or organization closer to reaching its goals. It, instead, produces mistrust, humiliation and alienation through the abuse, degradation and victimization of current and prospective members.
Many students get involved with Greek life, clubs and athletic or academic teams in order to meet new people, form long-lasting friendships, become active in campus events and to make connections that will help with future jobs. Teams, clubs and organizations can help with that process, but if the group engages in the hazing of its pledges or prospective members, nothing good can result.
Intentionally putting young adults in dangerous or illegal situations could result in harm to them or their permanent records. It makes no sense for someone to want to form a friendship with a person that doesn’t value them or have their best interest in mind.
If anyone is the victim or has knowledge of hazing practices, they should stand up against the abuse and contact school authorities for prevention. Accidents across the country have shown, time and time again, that malicious harassment, physical harm and premature deaths can be avoided.