Hazing is characterized by tests of loyalty for social group membership that can involve physical or emotional abuse of the candidates. Hazing has been reported in diverse social contexts, such as academic fraternities and sororities, sports teams, military and paramilitary forces, and street gangs. Research has shown that the methods of hazing vary among different social groups. Athletic groups (e.g., football teams) employ physical challenges (e.g., degrading positions and tasks, exposure to the elements, excessive physical activity) and physical abuse as their preferred hazing methods; these methods are extended in the physical endurance and abuse associated with military and gang initiations. In contrast, fraternities and sororities often employ violations of social rules and norms (e.g., wearing humiliating dress and attire, complete or partial nudity) as their preferred hazing methods. In particular, excessive alcohol consumption has been widely used in fraternity and sorority hazing and accounts for a significant proportion of hazing-related deaths.
Hazing has a dual purpose of promoting loyalty to a social group through shared hardship of the candidates and of reinforcing the established social structure within the social group. The procedures used to enforce hazing legitimize the positions earned by the group members within a social group. For example, a president of a fraternity has to take charge of recruiting new pledges and delegating the responsibilities of hazing the candidates to other fraternity members. Receiving group membership provides a justification for candidates’ efforts and the hardship they experienced during the hazing experience. Victims of hazing are often reluctant to report the physical or emotional abuse they suffer because of the shame involved in the experience or because they would forfeit membership in the social group by speaking out. Furthermore, the secretive nature of hazing leads to a lack of awareness of it by authority figures (e.g., college administrators, athletic coaches, police) who have the influence to disrupt hazing activities.
Some suggested methods to prevent hazing include using alternative group-building activities (e.g., fundraising, mentoring, communal field trips), clarification and strict enforcement of antihazing policies by authority figures, and providing an immediate and detailed investigation of any reports of hazing.
1. Hollmann, B. B. (2002). Hazing: Hidden campus crime. New Directions for Student Services, 99, 11–23.
2. Keating, C. F., Pomerantz, J., Pommer, S. D., Ritt, S. J. H., Miller, L. M., & McCormick, J. (2005). Going to college and unpacking hazing: A functional approach to decrypting initiation practices among undergraduates.
3. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, Practice, 9, 104–126.
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