How Colleges Control the Hazing Rituals

Hazing is not just confined to colleges. There have been deadly and disturbing hazing rituals in military units, among law enforcement groups, and in many environments where people work in tight groups or function as teams. 

If strictly regimented groups like the military can have out of control hazing rituals that get past the best efforts of leadership, then colleges are even more vulnerable to secretive and abusive rituals. These rituals often go on outside of the knowledge and control of those who are responsible but not present or aware.

The pressure piles onto all members of a group to keep the rituals secret. As a result group members will cover up and maintain secrecy to the point where they will not even report serious harm to the authorities.

Different psychological forces are at work with hazing. There is a version of “brainwashing” where the initiates place so much value on acceptance into the group that they will not process the reality that their own health and safety can actually be at risk. Year after year, initiates come to believe that the rituals will never be allowed to go beyond the safety point, yet year after year, trauma, permanent injury and even death results.

StopHazing.org lists three kinds of hazing: subtle hazing, harassment hazing and violent hazing.

College leadership, campus clubs, groups and fraternal organizations have clear understandings that certain violent rituals and behaviors are illegal and that those rituals are banned. Yet symbolic rape, rape with objects, kidnapping, imprisonment, sadistic tortures, scarification, burning, maiming, binge drinking, fear inducing, risky tasks, and water poisoning continue to go on.

At the state levels, all states except for Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Hawaii, New Mexico and Wyoming have anti hazing laws. If there is no law, there are executive orders, the full powers of the state’s Governor, Attorney General and law enforcement in the arsenals.

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. has a summary of state level laws in the United States. The main statement is

“…statutes prohibit any willful action that recklessly or intentionally endangers the physical health of a student; some statutes include the mental health of a student as well. Many statutes enumerate certain acts which constitute hazing, i.e. sleep deprivations, forced calisthenics and drug and alcohol use. Although a particular state may not have enacted a specific hazing statute, often actions that constitute hazing may be prosecuted under other criminal statutes, such as assault or reckless endangerment statues.

In the vast majority of states, consent by the pledge or new member is not a defense to hazing.”

At the college and university level, the state sponsored universities and colleges are under the Governor and generally a board of regents who will have a say in the matter of hazing rules and regulations. Private universities and colleges may operate under a widely varied system of anti hazing ideas, but will most likely have to answer to insurance companies, the State government, the local community, and other authorities who create indirect incentives to clean up hazing.

Administrators and supervisors are the last bastion of control over operations and organizations that are prone to hazing ritualism. According to NPR, there is no information yet as to how the Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion died, but hazing was given as a cause. The band has a history of paddling, water drinking, and punching as hazing rituals. 

Four band members were quickly expelled from the university. The band director, Julian White was fired. There has been talk of suspending the entire band. The Florida A&M band is more famous and popular than many university’s entire football teams. 

In summary, the vast majority of US states having clear laws against college hazing rituals. Virtually every college and university in the nation has a clear understanding of the dangers and liabilities of campus related hazing.

But the students themselves still prove to be the most formidable and cunning opponents as they find ways to continue the practice even when under the eye of experienced administrators, supervisors and professionals.