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Hazing on College Campuses

Across the nation, hazing incidents happen on college campuses every year. Institutions of higher education and lawmakers work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all students. High school students and college students are the most affected by these events. With education and the right policies in place, the incidents of hazing can be reduced.

Organizations that haze are typically secretive about their induction activities. Individuals seeking acceptance within a group are often unwilling to blow the whistle on the group hazing them. Despite these obstacles, it's important to continue fighting hazing policies. This can help protect students across the nation.

This article addresses hazing on college campuses.

What Is Hazing?

The definition of hazing varies. Generally, it involves forcing someone to take part in certain activities. These activities might be humiliating, dangerous, or illegal activities. This is especially part of the pledging or pre-initiation processes. For example, hazing might occur for induction into a Greek life organization.

Hazing activities often involve humiliation, discomfort, and the excessive consumption of alcohol. Some forms of hazing are not clearly recognized as such by either the perpetrator or victim. Regardless, there's a general consensus that hazing includes activities like coercing someone else to:

  • Dress in a humiliating fashion
  • Endure verbal abuse by other organization members
  • Act as a personal servant for another organization member
  • Endure harsh weather conditions without proper attire
  • Attend sketches, roasts, or other events designed to humiliate participants
  • Drink large volumes of non-alcoholic beverages, such as water
  • Drink large volumes of alcohol
  • Endure extreme sleep deprivation
  • Watch or perform sex acts (sexual assault)

On college campuses, this might include hazing rituals that can cause serious bodily injury. It's not just limited to physical harm; the mental health of the victim can be severely affected too. These actions can take place on or off campus. This makes it crucial for student organizations and the dean of students to be vigilant.

Anti-Hazing Laws

State law in many regions has clear definitions and penalties for hazing. For instance, the penal code in a state may classify an act of hazing as a crime if it leads to physical or mental harm. Details vary from state to state. Most statutes relating to hazing make the practice a misdemeanor crime. These crimes are usually punishable by a fine or even prison time.

There are no federal laws related to hazing. Congress has considered legislation previously but it did not pass. This legislation would have denied federal student aid to students who participated in hazing. As of 2023 there was a bill before Congress requiring reporting by universities on hazing. Congress has established policies with the Department of Defense to prevent hazing in the military.

School Policies Banning Hazing

Nearly every school has an explicit ban on hazing. These anti-hazing policies are usually located in the student conduct code. Hazing can result in bad press and poor public perception of the quality of a school. Hazing that violates school policies may result in disciplinary action by the school. This can include students being barred from participation in extracurricular activities and also lead to suspension or expulsion.

In the most severe cases, hazing can lead to referral to local law enforcement agencies. The details of certain kinds of hazing can lead to criminal charges. It could also lead to civil claims for damages. Victims of hazing often have additional claims for their injuries and emotional distress.

Schools may also be liable for hazing that takes place. This could be because a school-sponsored organization carried out the hazing. It could be because the school was negligent in protecting students from hazing it knew was occurring. Schools, fraternities, sports teams, or other organizations could be responsible. This is especially true if they ignored complaints or otherwise negligently permitted hazing to occur.

Do Students Who Participate in Hazing Get in Trouble?

Yes. Students who participate in hazing, even if coerced, can face disciplinary actions. This is according to both state laws and campus policies of the educational institution they attend. The matter of consent is often complex in hazing incidents. Some institutions define consent in such situations as invalid because it's given under pressure or fear. So, even if a student agrees to be hazed, it doesn't exempt the act from being punishable.

Furthermore, students might be hesitant to report hazing if they were part of the activity. They may fear repercussions or social isolation. However, many colleges recognize the intimidating nature of these situations. Many have mechanisms to support and protect students who come forward.

Problems and Perceptions Surrounding Hazing

The challenges in tackling hazing arise from misperceptions and the silent bystander effect. Many college students might view hazing as a harmless tradition or rite of passage. Organizations like Stop Hazing work to educate and change these perceptions. These organizations work toward hazing prevention.

The problem with both state and school prohibitions is that the most dangerous forms of hazing happen in secret. Hazing is traditionally done under the cloak of secrecy, but the existence of anti-hazing laws has contributed to the increasing number of lawsuits. These lawsuits have been filed against fraternal organizations, sports teams, or the school.

Hazing has often been thought of in the context of collegiate fraternities and sororities. In response to this perception, many national organizations have established clear anti-hazing policies. For example, the North American Interfraternity Conference established clear policies. The organization formally prohibited hazing by member fraternities. The organization also created an Anti-Hazing Coalition (AHC). This group works to eradicate hazing through outreach and advocacy.

It's important to know that hazing can happen outside of Greek life. Sports teams are among other organizations likely to haze. The unfortunate death of Robert Champion shed light on this. Champion was a drum major at Florida A&M University. He was part of the marching band. This case revealed that some marching bands and performing arts societies have a system of hazing. This system is just as dangerous as the more stereotypical Greek forms.

Next Steps: Getting Legal Help

If someone suspects or has been a victim of hazing, the first step should be to report the issue. Report the issue to the dean of students or the police department, especially if serious harm or a hazing death has occurred. Sanctions might be applied to those who commit or solicit hazing under state law or school policies. 

Many times, legal guidance is needed. This is especially true if there are complications related to student rights. Lawyers can help you understand student rights. They can also help you navigate institutional responsibilities.

Lawsuits relating to hazing can be complicated and detail-specific. They can involve many parties or several lawsuits in different kinds of courts. Contact a local attorney for help in determining who can be held liable for your hazing-related injuries.

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