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Preventing Rites from Becoming Wrongs
an article by Tony Dominski

Bullies stand aside! Hazing is being dragged out of the closet in a landmark study by Alfred University, in western N.Y. The University was blind-sided to find in 1998 that its freshman football players were forced to drink alcohol and vomit into a barrel. It had outlawed hazing 20 years ago after a death related to a fraternity initiation.

In high schools alone 1.5 million students are hazed annually. Most of these were athletes or members of peer groups and gangs. Hazing frequently involves illegal activity such as destroying property and picking fights. It may also include satanic rites, inflicting pain on self, being tied or physically abused, and cruelty to animals. Unfortunately, damage from hazing can be permanent. Like war trauma, hazing can bring about heightened sensitivities, nightmares, flashbacks, and rage.

Erika Karres, a professor at the University of North Carolina, documented a "Lord of the Flies" effect: Kids tend follow the most violent member of a group. If a group member has already committed violence, that kid is going to dominate.

The Alfred University study surveyed students about effective ways to prevent hazing. In response, the students recommended strong, disciplinary measures for known hazing incidents (61%) and police investigation and prosecution of hazing cases (50%) as the best prevention strategies. In addition, students felt that positive bonding (43%), educational activities (37%), and challenging activities (30%) would help to prevent hazing.

With hazing still widespread, a website called Stophazing has been developed to raise awareness. A surprising feature of this web-site is e-mails received in defense of hazing; these give a chilling insight into the hazing mindset. Also, a number of books are available on hazing including: "And Words Can Hurt Forever" by Ellen deLara and James Gabarino (The Free Press) and "Violence Proof Your Kinds Now" By Erika Karres, Ph.D., (Conari Press).

Educator Elliot Hopkins points out. "We’ve found grandfathers in the communities were hazed, fathers were hazed and the sons were hazed." This strong mainstream tradition will be a central challenge to developing a culture of peace.


Question(s) related to this article:

Hazing incidents in schools, Can they be teachable moments to educate students about a culture of peace?

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Latest reader comment:

Although hazing probably comes from our history of the culture of war, lots of other things also come from the culture of war and hazing isn't the worst.  In this respect I certainly agree with you, Brian.  For example, my wife tells me that when I watched the Superbowl I was watching a vestige of the culture of war.  Fair enough, but I don't think it is the first thing we need to change, especially when the war in Iraq brings suffering to millions of people and threatens to bring down the entire American empire just as Afghanistan contributed to the fall of the the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, it is probably good that we begin to understand how much our culture is shaped by the culture of war and what far-reaching changes it will take to arrive at a culture of peace.  Also, it may be that some people, unlike you, have been scarred by hazing rituals, in which case they will benefit from our understanding and solidarity.

And I do think it would be very powerful to think about rituals for a culture of peace in our schools.  In fact, I think that we can consider much of the peer counseling and conflict resolution now taking place in schools as just such a new direction of rituals that need to be strengthened.

This report was posted on January 12, 2004.