How College Students Can Avoid Hazing

Do a little research before joining a campus group.

Florida state attorney Lawson Lamar addressed reporters last week about the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, who was allegedly beaten to death in a hazing incident.

“I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying,” Lamar said. “It’s bullying with a tradition.”

Hazing has long gone on at college campuses across the country. And while bullying has recently been pushed to the forefront of our national dialogue, not much has been considered regarding the long-term effects of bullying.

In other words, what happens when bullies go to college?

“Bullying is asserting power,” says Caroline Watts, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist. “Hazing is basically the same thing.”

From frat houses to the athletic fields, more than half of college students report being hazed, according to the most recent comprehensive hazing report in 2008.

At Franklin and Marshall College, 11 members of the women’s lacrosse team plus head coach Lauren Paul were removed from the roster in connection with alleged hazing. Rolling Stone recently reported one frat boy’s hazing horror story at Dartmouth. Even at the University of Pennsylvania, the student government was found in violation of the school’s anti-hazing policies earlier this year.

And unlike K-12 schools, where teachers can rely more on parents to intervene with bullies, the lines are blurred on whether university administrators should step in to an organization and when it’s “just tradition.” Mostly, student organizations are left unsupervised.

“There are challenging boundaries that prevent university officials from stepping in,” Watts says. “Sometimes, it takes traumatic events to enact change.”

Even then, usually the response is legislative or legal. Forty-four states have anti-hazing laws, including Pennsylvania. Even with legislation, seeking information is difficult. Champion’s parents told CNN last week they were troubled by the lack of answers the investigation had yielded since November.

Administrators often don’t publicize organizations’ hazing or disciplinary records. But a quick search in the school’s university newspaper archives or a phone call to judicial affairs can yield answers that will help parents and students make a more informed decision before joining a group.

“So long as people don’t talk about it and people assume that it’s just part of the deal in an athletic group, fraternity, or sorority—it’s not going to change,” Watts says.