As stories of overboard and most likely uncommon hazing incidents become sensationalized in the media, it seems that a growing number of students on campus are joining the usual mindset of college administrators in their no tolerance stance toward hazing. The University administration and students alike seem to believe that meaningful friendships can be built under comfortable circumstances and, superficially, that hazing can appear to be an unnecessary and time-consuming practice for busy college students. While there can be some truth to that mindset, for me, my most meaningful and lasting friendships have been forged in stressful situations, not comfortable ones.
The University of Michigan defines hazing as “any action or situation … which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical, or academic health of the student. This includes, but is not limited to any situation which:
• Creates a risk of injury to any individual or group
• Causes discomfort to any individual or group
• Causes embarrassment to any individual or group
• Involves harassment of any individual or group
• Involves degradation of any individual or group
• Involves humiliation of an individual or group
• Involves ridicule of an individual or group”
These so-called mentally unhealthy situations banned by the University are, especially for men, the best circumstances under which close friendships can form. Many of our unpleasant life experiences are what help build our greatest friendships. In a 2008 study by University of Maine professors Dr. Elizabeth Allan and Dr. Mary Madden, it proves that students actually perceive more positive outcomes from hazing, rather than negative. Only three percent of participants reported feeling humiliated or degraded.
My closest friendships in high school, for example, were forged through the common struggles we experienced as members of sports teams. The University bans putting pledges in “discomforting” situations, but in my experience, it is this common discomfort we experienced as teammates at cold practices, long workouts and away games on weekends that made us such close friends.
The University hazing policy bans “degradation” and “embarrassment,” but, as team players, being publicly scolded by our coaches was an embarrassing experience. These embarrassing moments not only taught us important lessons, but made us closer as a whole due to our strict coaching staff. It’s a common tactic of sports coaches, notably exemplified by Herb Brooks and his 1980 U.S. Olympic team, to put their players through extremely strenuous circumstances in order to bring the team closer together, thereby forging friendships in the process.
Similarly, when I worked as a lifeguard and at a pizza shop, I bonded with my fellow employees by lamenting our job and dealing with the long hours, rude customers and low wages.
The incredible friendships that soldiers form under the stress and trials of war have been famously portrayed in culture through stories of strife, such as Shakespeare’s play “Henry V” and the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.” While these examples are extreme, they illustrate the fact that life-long friendships are made through sharing adversity. Even something as simple as marriage is often strengthened by the shared responsibilities and hard work of raising children.
Whether it’s the stress due to a boyfriend or girlfriend, a tough class, a hard practice, long hours at a job or being hazed during pledge term, the closest friendships are formed through times of struggle, not times of ease. The stressful circumstances under which friendships are formed are exactly the circumstances that pledge terms try to replicate through hazing.
While hazing can, and often does, go beyond its purpose of bringing pledges together as friends, the University of Michigan’s zero-tolerance policy for hazing is nevertheless trying to restrict an invaluable method of forming life-long friendships during some of our most formative years.
Scott Gumbiner is a LSA Junior.