Hazing? Really? This is still an issue?

In reaction to a government release of information relating to a hazing death in November at Florida A&M University – http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-05-23/features/os-famu-hazing-robert-champion-20120523_1_hazing-death-band-members-fraternity

I can’t believe that this is happening anywhere these days. When I was in high school about 25 years ago, hazing was something people talked about in the past tense. I am stunned that this kind of idiocy still goes on now. What is wrong with people?

What is so hard about getting this lesson through people’s heads – there’s no good reason to torture people physically or mentally, even if you think it’s just for fun. I mean, college organizations don’t engage in ritual murder (except in extraordinary circumstances, I guess). How is hazing any different?

I suspect that hazing is deeply rooted in human nature and although you can legislate against it and try to minimize it, you will never eliminate it.

How can you be shocked that hazing “is happening anywhere these days”? We read about it happening all the time. Have you ever known a culture to exist that didn’t have some form of hazing in it?

Group-membership rituals are inevitable, and in many cases useful. As I understand it, though, hazing goes off the rails when the rituals aren’t strictly codified and enforced, where members who endured the rituals only a few years earlier are put in charge of inducting new members and decide to make the ritual more extreme, which leads to those new members making it more extreme for their successors, leading to a gradually worsening cycle ending in someone’s death.

What is needed is the oversight of someone (ideally several someones) who plan to be around for several decades, i.e. a career military officer (commissioned or not) who can keep things in check. A frat (or, it seems, a marching band) at a four-year college might get no such oversight.

Do you think the people you were in high school with 25 years ago are the ones doing the hazing now? That’s a ridiculous question, you obviously know those people are in their 40s now.

But that’s why the lesson won’t stick - they’re new mean nasty people who need to be taught every year. Unfortunately people are mean and nasty, but asking why we can’t teach these people and make it stick is like asking why we have to teach high school kids to fucking drive every single year. Won’t the ever learn!?

My point is that 25 years ago, hazing was considered an abomination of the past, like lynching or slavery. Are you suggesting that today’s youth are likely to bring those back as well?

Sure it was, in polite society. As it is today. But we don’t live 24/7 in polite society.

I’m not sure I would consider my high school to constitute polite society.

And you really think that no hazing occurred in your HS? Or at your local college?

World would have gotten around.

Not on my college campus. I started college about 25 years ago and the fraternities and even some of the sororities were notorious for hazing. I think maybe in the last ten years or so some organizations have been losing their charters due to hazing related incidents (some of which may have resulted in death).

I don’t know where you lived 25 years ago, but it sure sounds nice, what with all the unicorns and rainbows.

I’ll offer a point of view from only 10 years ago. In my college marching band there was hazing, each freshman got thrown into the pond. That’s all. Hardly torture. They even did it at the end of rehearsal so it was refreshing.

I guess hazing made a comeback somewhere in the past 10 - 25 years, or maybe your school just didn’t have it. Think of all the traditions in the world and how many of them are stupid but happen anyways.

And that’s amusing as long as it went no further, i.e. someone deciding that a newbie hasn’t received the whole “pond experience” and holds his head underwater, leading to things gradually worsening.

I very much doubt this, and I also remember anti-hazing campaigns during that time. The big problem is that traditions die hard and it can be hard to get people to think about them critically. Sometimes they don’t even pull the plug if something terrible happens if there is not enough outside pressure- the Florida A&M band has gotten in trouble for this before and I believe there have been lawsuits, but I don’t think anybody died.

I’m 52 years old, and I can never remember a time when (a) one did not see news stories from time to time about death or severe injury from hazing, usually at college fraternities or military schools; and (b) every youth organization of note had policies forbidding hazing. Note that (a) and (b) co-exist and always have co-existed.

Hazing fulfills an important group function. It bonds the group together via the mechanism of “effort justification”. The harder it is to achieve something, the more you tend to value it.
I saw this in the military. Everyone (or at least almost everyone) comes out of boot camp immensely invested in their service. Boot camp is basically controlled hazing with a lot of safeguards in place. But it carries on to other areas as well. Being accepted onto a smaller ship crew often involved more informal hazing rituals.
And if kept under control, it improved moral and trust. The problems always came because, as mentioned above, certain individuals always had to go one step further than what was done to them. Then you end up with broken ribs, sexual violations, and worse.

The cure can sometimes be worse than the disease. After the Tailhook scandal the Navy had a huge anti-haze push. No tolerance was the word of the day. This came to screeching halt when a seaman on the USS Los Angeles committed suicide rather than turn in his fellow sailors for tacking on his dolphins.

You know what they say about absence of evidence?

I don’t buy for a second that the banning of hazing caused the guy to commit suicide. Suicide is the result of complex mental and emotional disorder, not just difficult decisions.

And I really have no idea what “tacking on his dolphins” means, but if it means using physical, mental, or emotional distress in a manner that causes pain, humiliation, or extreme discomfort or has the potential to result in permanent harm or death, then, really, fuck the seamen and their adolescent bonding.

To the extent that ritual is desirable, then it should be public, supervised, regulated, safe, and dignified. Anybody who can’t deal with that needs to be properly trained, supervised, educated, or punished.

And now having read the article linked to, I think it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t the fact that hazing was banned that was the problem, but the manner in which the incident was investigated and the fact that the victim of the hazing was being victimized both by his superiors and by his shipmates.

The guy was beaten to bruises by his shipmates and then threatened if he revealed their names. Those shipmates who did that—assaulted a colleague, violated the rules, and then threatened their victim—I don’t have any sympathy for them or for their need for “effort justification.” They’re criminals, plain and simple, and they should have been punished.

The fact that the Navy botched the investigation is simply another in a long line of incidents in which the Navy leadership has shown its bad judgment, including allowing Tailhook to happen in the first place, its persecution of homosexuals, and this.

There is a whole spectrum of hazing, from throwing someone in a pond, to having somehold a lit match while reciting something, to paddling, to worse.
Then there are other things. For example, is it hazing for a group to peer-pressure someone into trying to drink 21 shots in 21 minutes on their 21st birthday?

I would have actually liked to try the burning match thing to see how good my memory was under pressure. Even if I failed I would have put it out and not burned my fingers. But my fraternity wouldn’t allow even that.

Actually, we did throw people in a pond if they lavaliered their girlfriend. But this wasn’t done to pledges (as a pledge didn’t have letters to give). I never considered it hazing until Gedd’s post. Actually, in our case, I still don’t. Everybody knew that this was what happened when you gave your girl your letters. The girls understood that it was their job to grab towels on the way out.

I too went to high school ~25 years ago, and we got hazed (in a mild, fun way) in my high school marching band. Freshmen had to carry the seniors’ instruments to practice, they had to sing the alma mater at breakfast one morning at the, um, camp where you learned to do band stuff. (American Pie ruined that phrase forever.) Silly shit like that. I was once ordered to give a senior a foot massage – at 14, it was the most sexual contact I’d ever had with a girl, and I jumped at the chance. But hazing never went away.