Tradition oozes from every patch of this University, whether it’s on the athletic field or on the road between South and West Quad on the evening of the season’s first snow. Tradition is cherished here and rightfully so.
But there are some traditions that should not be continued or lauded. These are harmful traditions that happen in secret, lack purpose and are only for tradition’s sake. Hazing, the coercion of new members of a group to perform extreme and dangerous acts, is one of these useless traditions and should be prevented on this campus. And at the start of a semester when organizations begin thinking about transitioning leadership teams and new members, hazing prevention needs to be a priority.
And it’s not just fraternities or bands, though these types of organizations have a prevalent association with hazing. Many other types of organizations have been implicated in hazing, and it’s unfair to attribute the practice to a single type of group. No matter who does it, hazing is hazing and it’s wrong.
Hazing exists because it is ingrained in the tradition of organizations and because those who promote hazing misguidedly think that it has a positive effect on the culture of an organization. But in truth, all it does is indicate a serious lack of leadership. Hazing creates negative, aggressive feelings between members. As time passes, hazing practices become increasingly severe until a tragedy occurs. These offensive, harmful practices deter talented new people from joining an organization because they are turned off to abuse.
Advocates of hazing practices claim that the activities can have some positive effects on an organization. Even if they do, there are many alternatives to hazing that are just as good — or better — for accomplishing goals like bringing people together or encouraging hard work. These are the alternatives that are not psychologically or physically harmful. Challenges and shared experiences are created all the time without engaging in the harmful variety of hazing.
These activities are largely irrational in the first place. If hazing is meant to initiate or indoctrinate members to an organization’s culture, the activities should have some relevancy and connection to life in the organization. For example, if you are not a member of a goldfish-swallowing club, there’s no reason to make someone swallow a goldfish. To do so is simply absurd.
Some hazing activities attempt to have a purpose — which, I suppose, is slightly better than completely neglecting to have one. But any supposed lessons learned through hazing will never be more than a long stretch of analogy or better than the lessons learned by purposeful non-hazing activities. Learning the value of team unity by linking arms for an extended period of time is a shallow lesson. Forcing people to do lots of push-ups does not obviously teach persistence. Trying to justify hazing by saying it has a so-called purpose is not providing a sufficient justification, but instead just a thinly-veiled rationalization for wrongdoing.
Make no mistake — hazing is an abuse of power. But the paradox of hazing is that victims really have more power than their abusers. If a victim of hazing chooses to abandon an organization, it leaves the organization closer to failure because it consequently has fewer members and a bad reputation. The departing member can just join a new organization. Underclassmen, you don’t have to let an organization haze you. They need you to survive more than you need them.
Continuing abusive practices because hazing is legally difficult to define isn’t okay, either. By legal definitions, many benign activities might be judged as hazing in court, so there may be little incentive to temper any harmful activities. Even if it is hard to define, legal ambiguity is not an excuse to allow hazing to remain.
Instead of tip-toeing around the legality of hazing, an organization striving for excellence should do things that are both effective and indisputably moral. A simple rule of thumb should be that if an activity could be considered hazing even to a small degree, it’s not worth the waste of time because there is a better option.
Complicating the matter further, some people claim to like being hazed because they feel they earn their organizational affiliation that way. That’s like saying they enjoy getting punched in the face. I think what those people actually like is being part of a group that pays attention to and challenges them — neither of which hazing really does.
Traditions will continue at this University long after we all leave. Many will have the opportunity to cement a lasting legacy on an athletic field, the stage, in a classroom or at a meeting table. In addition to other successes, make hazing prevention a part of your legacy by replacing abusive practices with better, meaningful alternatives.
Neil Tambe can be reached at email@example.com.