Public attention to the issue of hazing on college campuses is heightened when something terrible happens, such as the death of fraternity pledge Tim Piazza at Penn State last year. But hazing isn’t always as dramatic, and it’s common.
In fact, hazing happens to more than half of college students, who belong to clubs, teams or organizations. For those on sports teams or in fraternities or sororities, it’s 75 percent.
For more than a decade, University of Maine professor of higher education Elizabeth Allan and her colleagues have been looking at college hazing, and this week they’ve released a new paper and toolkit intended to help colleges take steps to prevent it.
Allan spoke with Maine Things Considered Host Nora Flaherty.
Flaherty: How do researchers define hazing?
Allan: Hazing is any kind of behavior that is expected of someone joining, participating in or maintaining membership in a group that is abusive, humiliating, degrading or somehow could threaten physical harm.
For this research you studied a group of eight colleges that were really making efforts to eliminate hazing. What were some of the big takeaways of that research?
Most significantly there are some things that require structural and financial resources in order to make meaningful change. But there are also some little things that can go a long way and can make a big difference in hazing prevention, types of things that provide visible evidence that a college or university is truly committed to hazing prevention. For example, having senior leaders at the institution send an email out to students, speak out publicly, talk with parents and families about this issue. Those are the kinds of things that we see the campuses that are really leading the way in this area are really showing, that they are taking a stand on this issue.
What are the expensive structural things they’re doing?
Things like ensuring that hazing prevention is written into job descriptions. Working with a range of different kinds of student clubs organizations and teams. Having some resources set aside or allocated for hazing prevention efforts throughout the year — not just a one-time kind of thing. Having trainings and workshops. It takes a little bit of financial investment to develop those and tailor those for the students at the institution. But the research does show that they are effective in terms of shifting attitudes and bystander intervention behaviors that will go a long way to helping to prevent hazing.
Your team has also been looking at how students feel about hazing. We know it’s fairly common, but what have you found, and has that told you anything about how these strategies work?
Many students and the public alike, when they hear about some of the most egregious forms of hazing, the kinds of things that make the headlines, nearly everyone will say that is absolutely unacceptable. However, hazing does occur along a spectrum, and there are lots of kinds of hazing behaviors that still are humiliating, degrading and abusive that many don’t recognize as hazing when it occurs. So we do have a long way to go in terms of educating, building awareness and building the skills for students and others in the campus community to recognize signs of hazing when it does occur, so that we can intervene before we get to be dealing with a tragic situation.