Hazing and Florida A&M University are back in the headlines after the all-female Torque Dance Team was been suspended for alleged off-campus hazing.
An anonymous tip from a parent reported the alleged hazing that reportedly included alcohol consumption and running up hills, reported USA TODAY.
The school was still feeling the aftershocks of the death of a drum major during a hazing ritual last November.
The school will have a long road to redemption, as do many that have suffered from similar high-profile hazing deaths, said Hank Nuwer, an associate professor of journalism at Franklin College who has written four books on the subject of hazing.
“It’s a shame. The school basically has to go group by group to clean out the culture,” he said. “It gives the institution a stigma.”
A horse drawn carriage carrying the casket of Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion is lead by his fellow band members following his funeral service Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011.
Travis Apgar’s knows a thing or two about hazing.
He vividly remembers his pledge class being taken one by one into a dark room in his fraternity house’s attic. He remembers a brother handing him a pistol, telling him to hold it up to his head, pull the trigger and say that he would die for the fraternity.
And at 18 years old, Apgar says he was stupid enough to do it.
Later that night, Apgar went on a complete rampage, raging through the house and wrecking things until he fell down the stairs and cut his head open. He ended up in the hospital, where doctors had to sedate him.
Apgar said he had that response because the fraternity brothers gave him a bid after he attended one event — offering it to him not for who he was but because he was a football player.
Because if they had gotten to know his background, they would have discovered that when Apgar was eight years old, his mother and father got into a fight one night, and she left him. The next morning, Apgar’s father was woken up by a phone call from an attorney saying that his mother had a restraining order against him and was filing for divorce.
His father’s response to that, Apgar said at a speaking event, was to go to his room, take out a gun and shoot himself in the head.
“Had they just taken some time to know who I was, they might have realized a fraternity’s not worth that much,” said Apgar, who is now the Robert G. Engel associate dean of students at Cornell University and has been a featured speaker at conferences and colleges across the country on the topic of hazing.
But why is it that hazing exists in the first place? What are the factors that allow it to perpetuate, and what will it take to make it stop?
A national study of student hazing — conducted by Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden, associate professors in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Maine — found that 55% of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.
“We found hazing to occur among many different kinds of student groups,” Allan said. “It was often thought, prior to the study, that it was an isolated problem for fraternities, sororities and athletic groups.”
The study also found that nearly half of students said they had experienced hazing in high school.
“It really gives us a window to see hazing as more a part of the school and college and university culture than we may have previously thought,” Allan said.
Allan and Madden found that hazing occurs in, but extends beyond, varsity athletics and Greek-letter organizations and includes alcohol consumption, humiliation, sleep deprivation and sex acts.
“Everyone wants to belong to a group,” Allan said. “We have a human need for belonging, so that alongside being a newcomer to a campus or school, you may feel a little more vulnerable and less likely to stand up and say ‘No, I’m not doing that.’”
Only one out of 10 people reported hazing incidents, and one of the most surprising findings of the study, Allan said, is that nine out of 10 respondents didn’t believe they had been hazed. Instead, they called it tradition or initiation.
“In their minds, it kind of excused the behavior,” Allan said. “Even if the good intentions are there, it can still be hazing.”
Pete Smithhisler, president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said a lack of education in organizations allows hazing practices to continue.
“Hazing exists within an organization because of a lack of understanding about the true value of that organization,” he said. “Most people consider hazing a right of passage, where we would assert that hazing is not a right of passage. It’s more about power, control.”
But education alone is not enough to change the culture of hazing that exists on campuses, Allan said. Students need to be given the skills to intervene and to know as leaders how to design group activities that don’t include hazing.
“I think we need to continue to do research to find other things that will replace hazing,” she said. “Just telling someone that hazing is a risky behavior and you could hurt someone is important, but it’s not enough.”
Smithhisler said the true value of organizations is about community service and developing a sense of obligation to your fellow man, with education at the forefront.
“It’s about leadership and the development of leadership values in members in preparation for life after college,” he said. “I think the values of diversity and community are present in the fraternity experience. Being part of something larger than oneself is also a part of growth.”
The main purpose of hazing in the eyes of its perpetrators, Smithhisler said, is for new members to earn their place in the organization and show their loyalty.
“Many times, hazing creates a second-class citizenship within an organization and doesn’t engage a new member fully in the process,” he said. “Hazing institutionalizes this idea that membership must be achieved as a new member, when each of them should be living to those values of the organization everyday.”
It will take individual acts of courage and a certain amount of vigilance to decrease hazing on high school and college campuses, Smithhisler said.
“It’s hard to stand up to your peers and say, ‘We’re going to do things differently,’ but if someone can do so, the change is swift and the lasting effect very positive,” he said. “I think it’s really important to replace hazing activities with positive new membership experiences.”
Troy Farsakian said he wouldn’t pledge or join if he knew a certain fraternity or group performed hazing rituals.
“I don’t find that a welcoming environment, and I wouldn’t want to be around that,” said the 18-year-old University of Illinois freshman. “I’d rather be around guys who have my back and I can trust who wouldn’t demean me in any way.”
There are positive aspects to initiation procedures, Farsakian said, but not when they include violent acts.
“It lets you understand the commitment and what you mean to the group and what the group means to you,” he said. “But there’s no point to any physical or verbal harassment whatsoever. It should be a welcoming event.”
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