Haze and be Hazed? Not at Drexel
By Lauren Boyle
September 30, 2009 — For as long as Greek Life has existed on college campuses, hazing has often been a part of fraternity and sorority initiation. But the dangerous physical, emotional, and potential legal consequences of hazing extend beyond our Greek brothers and sistersto athletic teams, school newspapers, and many other organizations where a system of hierarchy is in place. This year, the College of Arts and Sciences partnered with Drexel’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life to hold a panel discussion where experts could talk with students, faculty and staff about ritualistic hazing.
On September 30, 2009 in the Bossone Auditorium, Dr. Kirk Heilbrun, Head of the Department of Psychology, Dr. Ludo Scheffer, Professor of Psychology, and Natalie Shaak, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Drexel University, teamed up to discuss the nature of hazing, the motivation to haze, warning signs, and the constructive rituals that might replace violent and degrading acts of hazing.
Dr. Heilbrun began the discussion by explaining that initiation rites have been a part of society throughout history. Before becoming a full-fledged member in any group, there is often a certain “rite of passage” one must undergo to prove oneself worthy of belonging. Hazing, however, is the dark side of initiation, according to Dr. Heilbrun. When issues of power and control get out of hand, the initiation no longer has any discernable purpose. The primary goals of creating a brotherhood or promoting the values of the group become eclipsed by cruelty and victimization. Dr. Scheffer offered that initiation becomes hazing when humiliation is involved. The de-humanization of the new member defines the relationship of “hazer” and “hazee.” Whether it be pressuring a college freshman to down a case of Miller Light or forcing a new member on the soccer team to shine twenty-four pairs of shoes (as Dr. Scheffer was subjected to), hazing is ultimately an expression of power and an attempt to exercise control over others. From her personal experiences with sorority life, Ms. Shaak told the audience that initiation becomes ritualistic hazing when the behavior no longer has any positive impact.
One of the most confusing aspects of hazing is the lack of guilt on the part of the hazers. Dr. Scheffer pointed out that hazing is a group phenomenon, and when large groups of people are together promoting and engaging in the same behavior, it becomes easier to minimize the consequences. The panelists purported that the media has contributed to the minimization of the destructive consequences of hazing. As an example Dr. Heilbrun brought up the cult classic, Animal House, in which hazing is depicted as silly and inconsequential. The characters are comical character, and laughing at their seemingly ridiculous antics gives the viewer the impression that hazing is acceptable, perhaps even enjoyable.
The panelists did indicate, however, that modern technology may be credited with discouraging hazing, as illegal actions are increasingly exposed via video and film. College students with cameras and video phones can certainly help catch more groups engaged in hazing by documenting the abuse, but the dilemma runs deeper than simply crime and punishment. What causes young people to allow themselves to be degraded, and why has this unhappy tradition prevailed for so long?
Never underestimate the power of peer pressure. The panelists pointed out that human beings have a natural desire to belong and to be accepted, so a desire to “earn your place” has caused ritualistic patterns to emerge within organizations. Although he simplified it for the purpose of discussion, Dr. Scheffer explained the mentality of hazers: “It was done to us, so we do it to other people.” Dr. Heilbrun proposed that another possible reason hazing has been allowed to continue is due to the “bystander effect” or the tendency for people to avoid helping in emergency situations if others are present. For example if person A, B, C, and D are at a sorority party where pledges are being subjected to hazing, person A assumes person B will seek help, person B assumes person C will seek help, and so on. If no one feels directly responsible for handling the problem, chances are no one will notify an authority about the abuse.
Turning away from the “why” aspect of hazing, the panelists focused on the warning signs and consequences which could ensue. Someone being hazed often becomes introverted and isolated, even if their personality was notably extroverted initially. Victims of hazing tend to become less involved in other extracurricular activities, and tend to slip away from friends outside the group. The individual may seem plagued with a constant sense of urgency and fear, and may bear physical signs of abuse such as appearing sleep deprived, disheveled or sickly. Personal relationships, professional responsibilities, and academic endeavors can all fall to the wayside for a person experiencing ritualistic hazing.
It is not only the pledge that is significantly affected by hazing; from the experience of Ms. Shaak the audience learned the emotional consequences extend to the hazer as well. After being hazed as a pledge, she herself had engaged in some mild hazing during her time in a sorority. Ms. Shaak felt some of the personal relationships between she and her sorority sisters were permanently marred, never fully developing because of the gap this master-servant relationship had placed between them. A further analysis of her experience would suggest that hazing can negatively affect the morale of the organization as a whole. If there are conflicted relationships and tensions built up within a group, the sisterhood or brotherhood, which is supposed to be a group’s core value, can never really be reached.
Drexel has a firm anti-hazing policy and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life initiated the Annual Hazing Awareness Week to proactively deal with the realities of hazing on campus. All members of sororities, fraternities, sports teams, and all other organizations are encouraged to speak to their Greek advisors and to adopt activities which promote real bonding rather than harmful acts of hazing. The College of Arts and Sciences’ Hazing Panel was sponsored to achieve the University’s overall goal, which is to promote communication rather than fear and punishment.
The panelists concluded the event by listing some of the qualities of an ideal, supportive administration system for Greek Life. The list included: keeping an open mind, creating a sense of community amongst organizations, fostering relationships between advisors and organizations, showing the organizations respect, and ultimately looking back to the organization’s mission or values when determining if an activity could be considered hazing.
For more information or to report hazing on campus please contact:
Natalie Shaak (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Stephen Rupprecht (email@example.com) in Student Conduct and Community Standards
Drexel University's Anti-Hazing Policy:
Hazing activities in any form are prohibited. The University supports and will strictly enforce the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law, Act 175 of 1986. This law defines hazing as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of a student or willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education. The term shall include but not be limited to any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance, or other forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual and shall include any activity which would subject the individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual, or any willful destruction or removal of public or private property. For the purposes of this definition, any activity as described in this definition upon which the initiation or admission into or affiliation with or continued membership in an organization is directly or indirectly conditioned shall be presumed to be ‘forced’ activity, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.”
In addition, the University adheres to the Fraternity Executives Association’s definition of hazing: “...any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off University or fraternity/sorority premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities and situations include paddling in any form, creation of excessive fatigue, physical and psychological shock... or any other such activities, wearing publicly apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste, engaging in public stunts and buffoonery, morally degrading or humiliating games and activities, late work sessions which interfere with scholastic activities, and any other activities which are not consistent with fraternal law, ritual, or policy or regulations and policies of the educational institution.”
Individuals and/or organizations as a whole found in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary action.
Lauren Boyle graduated in June of 2010 with a B.A. in English.