Hazing Research Paper Starter


Hazing can be categorized in three increasingly serious ways: subtle hazing, harassment hazing, and bodily harm hazing. Typically hazing takes the form of an initiation ritual in which members of an out-group attempt to become members of an in-group through secretive and often legally questionable behavior. Hazing's history in Western culture can be traced back at least to the Greeks, and its influence is still felt in colleges, universities, high schools, and middle schools. Once hailed as obsolete in American education, hazing has been banned and declared against the law in forty-four states and Washington, DC, but it continues to occur even as it has been driven deeper underground. Experts agree that hazing is often the result of a dangerous mixture of peer pressure, a need for revenge from former hazed students, the desire to be part of a group, and a code of silence that protects perpetrators. Most psychologists believe that hazing can only be eliminated through the creation of school cultures that respect inclusion and teamwork and value the unique contributions to be made by all students.

Keywords Bodily Harm Hazing; Code of Silence; Harassment Hazing; Hazing; Ingroup; Initiation Ritual; Outgroup; Peer Pressure; Subtle Hazing

School Safety: Hazing


The first task in understanding hazing is to get a clear sense of what the word means. As writers such as Riordan (2007) have noted,

The term "hazing" connotes a variety of meanings to different people. To most higher education administrators it is unconscionable and a practice that should be eradicated. To most parents or community members it is difficult to comprehend something practiced by unruly college students. To the perpetrators and victims it is often a "rite of passage" that accompanies becoming a new member of a team or organization (Riordan, 2007).

Hazing, as distinguished from benign initiation rituals, perhaps is best defined as "any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them[,] regardless of a person's willingness to participate" (Allan & Madden, 2006, p. 14). According to Mothers Against School Hazing (2005), there are three levels of hazing:

? Subtle Hazing: "…actions that are against accepted and organization standards of conduct, behavior and good taste. An activity or attitude directed toward a student or an act which ridicules, humiliates, and/or embarrasses."

? Harassment Hazing: "…anything that causes anguish or physical discomfort to a student…any activity directed toward a student or activity which confuses, frustrates or causes undue stress."

? Bodily Harm Hazing: "…any form of action that may cause physical punishment, or any action that may cause bodily harm and/or touching in private places and/or de-clothing of a student" (Mothers Against School Hazing, 2005)

The practice of hazing dates back to ancient Greece (McDaniel, 1914), if not earlier, and it attracted the disapproving attention of Plato and St. Augustine, among others. Justinian's law code of 529–534 CE banned the hazing of new law students, and the University of Paris in the fourteenth century began expelling students found guilty of hazing. German Protestant reformer Martin Luther was hazed while a student at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and by 1657, students at Harvard (which had only opened in 1636) were being fined for hazing ("Chronology," 2004).

Hazing in American education continued right through the nineteenth century. The most infamous cases of hazing during that time involved the United States Military Academy at West Point, which has a long history of initiation rituals for incoming cadets—"new cadets sweep out the rooms and shovel the snow," wrote General Ramsey in 1814—though the initiation rituals became what we would recognize as hazing rituals as the nineteenth century progressed ("A Century's," 1908, p. SM3).

Hazing in the News

There was widespread newspaper coverage of hazing at West Point in the 1870s ("West Point," 1873, p. 8), and students faced expulsion or court martial if found guilty. Sadly, the practice continued, and in 1891, the New York Times reported on a series of cadet expulsions, noting that "the disgraced youngsters—or several of them, at least—being the very ones who had fallen prey to the barbarism of those who had been dismissed the preceding year" ("Normal Students," 1891, p. 1).

Hazing also spilled over into public education. In 1880, there was a shooting at a prep school known as the Highland Falls Academy in which a student who thought he was being hazed shot a fellow student ("Buck's Cowardly," 1880, p. 7). Sensing that hazing was a concern to parents, boy's prep schools began including in their newspaper advertisements a promise that there was no hazing on their campuses ("Classified ad," 1882, p. 2). But the hazing problem had spread to unlikely locations such as East Hampton Williston Seminary in Springfield, Massachusetts, where in February 1882 students confessed to kidnapping a fellow student, and "the School Trustees are determined to push the prosecution so as to break up the hazing evil" ("Williston students", 1882, p. 8). At Harvard, in 1883, the president delivered a speech in which he sounded the optimistic note that, in paraphrasing a New York Times reporter, "no student who means to be a self-respecting gentleman would think of practicing the senseless tricks of former days" ("Character-forming," 1883, p. 3).

Still hazing continued. In February 1886, several students were expelled from the State Normal School in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, because they "bound and gagged one of their fellow-students…took him to an upper room and painted his face black, telling him that if he attempted to make a noise he would be severely beaten" ("Students expelled," 1886, p. 1). In 1891, at the State Normal Training School in New York, a gang of 23 male students assaulted fellow male students who had escorted female students home from classes, throwing the gentleman callers over fences and dousing them with water ("Normal students in disgrace," 1891, p. 1); a day later, the students were cleared of hazing charges after the females involved came to their defense ("Normal students reinstated," 1891b, p. 4).

The Booz Inquiry

But in 1900, the hazing at West Point had spiraled out of control. Often first-year cadets were compelled to fight fourth-year cadets, and the outcome of such mismatches was generally unfortunate for the first-year cadet. In 1898, a new cadet, Oscar Booz, was subjected to repeated ridicule because he read the Bible, as well as physical abuse such as being forced to drink bottle after bottle of Tabasco sauce and being severely beaten in a boxing match with a formidable upperclassman. Booz withdrew from West Point after only four months and died of tuberculosis of the larynx 18 months later. His parents blamed his fellow cadets for their son's death, and a formal congressional court of inquiry—nicknamed the Booz Inquiry—was formed by President William McKinley in December 1900.

The Booz Inquiry revealed that even Cadet Douglas Macarthur, son of Civil War hero Gen. Arthur Macarthur Jr. and Cadet Ulysses S. Grant, grandson of the former president, were guilty of hazing ("Hazing students fainted," 1900, p. 3). Grant testified that he himself was hazed through an excessive amount of exercise, such as having to hold a dumbbell in his outstretched arm for 5–6 minutes at a time. Some outraged senators and congressional representatives spoke of dissolving West Point entirely and returning military training to the states ("Senators," 1901, p. 6). In May 1901, the congressional representatives found no connection between Booz's death and the West Point hazing, though several West Point students found guilty of hazing were thrown out.

Hazing also captured the attention of the public, including one citizen who wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times in January 1901, during the height of the Booz Inquiry. The writer argued that it is easy to stop hazing, assuming the will to do so exists:

The real difficulty is that [college officers], like the public generally, habitually regard hazing as an amusing, boyish prank. Hazing is, in fact, the crime of assault. That crime should be treated, when it occurs in a college or school, just as it is treated when it occurs elsewhere. ("How to stop hazing," 1901, p. 6)

Despite the public outcry, and even legislation in states such as Ohio ("Hazing made criminal," 1906) to make hazing illegal after hazed students died, hazing was hardly snuffed out in the nation's colleges and high schools. It was still seen by many boys, and even some girls ("Alpha girls," 1910, p. 18), as a rite of passage. According to one British observer, Americans were particularly adept at it:

Bullying is fairly common both in the English and in the continental schools. Usually, however, it is instinctive and unpremeditated. In America it is accompanied by a considerable amount of forethought and conscious will-power. Instinct by itself is powerful, but when accompanied by deliberate effort it becomes still more so; hence the systematic thoroughness that characterizes the American hazing (Dewe, 1907, p. 198).

Hazing Becomes Unpopular

By the 1940s and 1950s, it became accepted wisdom that hazing had become almost obsolete on college and university campuses because of three factors:

• A sober assessment of the deaths that took place in the 1920s;

• Students' greater appreciation of their place in an increasingly competitive educational environment; and

• The influx of returning soldiers from World War II, who, as new college freshmen, "believed that nothing could top their...

(The entire section is 4379 words.)