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Why Hazing Is America’s Worst Tradition

Hazing has long polarized the American society. People too often dismiss the practice of humiliating students for the sake of initiating them into a new school as a fun rite of passage.

But it isn’t. 

One study shows that more than 70% of those subjected to hazing suffer from long-term negative consequences. These include physical, emotional, and mental instability. Moreover, hazing can result in serious injury or death

The list of hazing or pledging deaths in the U.S. is long and dates as far back as 1738. Yet, for some reason, this controversial tradition is still followed in some universities. Despite at least 44 states having some form of anti-hazing law, students still die and get hurt every year. 

The Dangers of Hazing

Hazing happens in many forms. Sometimes, sororities and fraternities force candidates to drink disgusting or even toxic substances. They even prevent them from going to sleep for several days. 

Some institutions seem to think it is fun to humiliate new students or physically assault them. 

This is all done in the name of team spirit and strengthening social bonds between students. Unfortunately, the reality of hazing is incredibly bleak.

Depending on the activities dreamed up by the ‘team’ in charge of hazing, there could be several endings to a hazing ritual. These include alcohol poisoning and hypothermia. In extreme cases, these endings may result in death. 

Several true stories of hazing rituals ended in assault, hospitalization, and traumatic brain injuries. 

Hazing also inflicts psychological trauma. If students are embarrassed in front of their peers, it can affect the rest of their lives negatively. 

Students impacted by the aftereffects of hazing often experience depression and anxiety, which spills over to their grades. Eventually, they withdraw from social activities, and this behavior follows them into adulthood. 

The fear of being ignored by others or ostracized in a new environment forces many students to participate in hazing rituals. Sadly, these rituals most of the time go against state anti-hazing laws and can lead to criminal charges all around. 

Willingly participating in hazing will not exempt victims from being criminally charged, which adds another layer of stress to this awful experience. 

How the U.S. Holds Hazers Accountable

Hazing will never end if the consequences for hazers are too light or, in some cases, non-existent. 

Only Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Wyoming have no anti-hazing laws. The remaining states each have laws that universities must abide by. 

The consensus is that these laws prohibit activities that increase the risk of injury or death. If universities violate these laws, the perpetrators may be fined, given community service, expelled, or even go to jail. 

Fortunately, there is legal recourse in serious hazing cases. Victims who suffer severe physical injuries can sue for medical expenses and pain and suffering. Even the intentional infliction of emotional distress could be enough grounds to file a lawsuit. 

Furthermore, some hazing activities may violate anti-discrimination laws. This is especially true if the victims are targeted based on race, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity. 

Finally, if hazing activities cause someone’s death, that individual’s family may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

The Problem With Current Anti-Hazing Laws

While anti-hazing laws are a step in the right direction, they do not cover every eventuality. For instance, no law can force someone to come forward if they do not want to. 

Some hazing victims receive threats, while others fear retaliation from their peers. Even worse, some victims may keep quiet out of misguided loyalty to the university. 

In these cases, it is impossible to prove that hazing happens in a specific institution. 

On the other hand, there is a slow but steady move towards increased awareness of the dangers of hazing. This helps motivate stricter enforcement of anti-hazing laws, which could eventually see hazing become a thing of the past. 

What Universities Can Do to Stop Hazing Now

There are several ways universities can stop hazing activities immediately. In the first place, fraternity and sorority members should not have any perceived power over initiates. 

There should be balanced discussions about pledging activities in the place of hazing rituals. Also, all universities should encourage initiates to speak out if they feel uncomfortable about any aspect of the pledging process. 

Universities must be willing to let go of old, harmful traditions. What was seen as fun 50 years ago is simply humiliating and harmful today. Educational institutions must hear different opinions on the matter and use these to amend their traditions. 

Furthermore, universities should develop a clear anti-hazing policy. This policy should outline acceptable and non-acceptable activities for initiates to participate in. If fraternity and sorority members violate this policy, they should face consequences like suspension. In severe cases, they must face legal action. 

Breaking the Harmful Hazing Cycle

While universities debate how to handle hazing, there are other ways to lessen the impact of this tradition. 

There is ultimately nothing wrong with building a group identity through a shared experience, as long as the shared experience is not dangerous or harmful to any participant. 

This means that universities and, by default, fraternities and sororities must work towards creating positive experiences that promote respect, teamwork, and personal growth. 

These experiences could include community volunteer projects or mentorship programs. Universities could even look into fun teambuilding activities that avoid humiliation and danger. 

There is no reason to subject any student to a ritual or tradition for the sheer purpose of humiliating them or hurting them. 

In 2024, all universities should do better than this. 

Shining a Light on the Dark Side of Hazing

Hazing will always be a part of American university culture. However, it does not have to be the worst part of it. It is time to break the cycle of harm and build a legacy of respect within each institution. 

It is vital to see harmful hazing for what it is: Bullying in the starkest sense of the word. And this behavior should have no place in modern universities. 

This is why all institutions and states must work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all students at all times. 


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