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Hazing: The Meaning Beyond “The Joke”

September 20, 2017

Hazing. You have heard the term, but do you know what it means?  

In most, if not all, of our programs at Catharsis Productions we talk about the importance of the language we use in our daily lives and how it can contribute or dismantle rape culture, violence and abuse. 

One of the words we discuss, mostly during orientation season, is HAZING.  

Not so long ago, hazing was viewed at many universities as nothing but pranks or tradition. And even though hazing is now illegal in 44 states, these practices continue to happen in Greek life, sport teams and other student clubs.  

Hazing can be defined as: “Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” 

Many students still accept hazing as a bonding experience. But why would any person engage and encourage abuse, humiliation and dangerous activities? 

Besides the need of acceptance in a particular group, we believe that the connotation of the word “hazing” is still within a grey area for many people, which contributes to the way we perceive it. Some people defend it by using some of the following arguments:  

  • “It’s tradition”
  • “We’ve been doing it for years!”
  • “It’s just a joke”
  • “Hazing is okay as long as it is not physically dangerous.”
  • “If someone agrees to participate in an activity, it can’t be considered hazing” 

We need to call hazing for what it is: Violence, harassment, humiliation, abuse. By using the phrases above to justify hazing we’re contributing to the normalization of these practices.   

A snowball starts forming because if we normalize abuse then people do not recognize there’ s a problem and do not intervene, they just look the other way. A lot of the problem is due to how we think about things. If we use the mental “shortcut” of hazing=joke we don’t suspect abuse is going on and we just think “Oh they’re just horsing around” 

And then the bystander effect takes place, where there is an assumption that “someone else”—some authority—will take care of it. 

So, what is the answer? How can we help to stop instances of hazing? Recognizing that hazing is a form of abuse and calling that is a good start.  

The website has many helpful resources and they tell us how can parents, students and administrators help: 

So, how can parents help?

While most parents are excited about their children pursing extracurricular activities and interests, the risk of hazing raises considerable safety concerns that cannot be ignored. As a parent, you should:

    1. Talk to your teen about hazing and its possible dangers so he or she can be more proactive in maintaining his or her safety.
    2. Encourage your teen to research the organizations he or she is considering carefully. Social media may be particularly helpful, as research reports that pictures are posted online in about half of hazing incidents.
    3. Encourage your teen to maintain friendships across multiple settings, not just in one particular group or organization.
    4. Remind your teen that suspected hazing can be confidentially reported to campus officials.
    5. Know the state’s and university’s anti-hazing laws, if applicable. These can be found at:


How can students help?

Students must work together to make changing the culture of hazing a priority, just as they need to change many other aspects of campus life that are potentially destructive, such as sexual assault, binge drinking, or inappropriate use of digital media.  If you’re a student:

    1. Learn about hazing practices so that you can become empowered, and also prevent harm to yourself and others.
    2. Have open and honest discussions about the process of entry into organizations.  As it can sometimes be hard to understand what constitutes hazing behaviors, website has additional resources with reflective questions that can help stimulate a thoughtful discussion.  These include considering the following:
      • Would you let a newspaper reporter see and report what you are doing?
      • Would you tell your parents what you are doing?
      • Would you tell new members of the group what they will go through?
      • Would you let the administrators know what you are doing?
      • Does the activity risk emotional or physical abuse?
    3. Speak up, as talking with the organization’s leadership and school administration could potentially save lives. Suspected hazing can be reported confidentially if you wish to remain anonymous.  There is also a national, toll-free, anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293).
    4. Consider checking out This is another helpful resource that includes a hazing prevention course, a list of common myths about hazing and various educational links.


And finally, how can administrators help?

While the majority of schools have anti-hazing, zero tolerance hazing policies in place, the National Study of Student Hazing found that the students surveyed had limited exposure to hazing prevention efforts beyond a “hazing is not tolerated” approach. Higher initiative from school administrators is therefore essential. If you are a school administrator:

  1. Broaden the range of those targeted in anti-hazing efforts to all students, faculty, alumni and family members.
  2. Continue to promote anti-hazing education through various platforms, including assemblies, dorm meetings and social media.
  3. Meet regularly with student organization leadership (Greek life, sports teams, student government, etc.) in an effort to better understand gaps between policy and policy implementation.
  4. Enforce consequences if rules are violated. There needs to be a clear message from your school’s dean that hazing behaviors are strictly prohibited.
  5. Consider forming a campus council on hazing prevention.


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Catharsis Productions

Catharsis Productions' mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and 
research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.