Friday, April 17, 2009

Do We Have A Hazing Gene?

One of the prominent items in the news yesterday was about sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold, humiliation, isolation, forced nudity, verbal abuse, coerced simulated sex acts, and sexual assault with objects like sticks, pine cones or golf balls.

I bet you think I’m talking about the CIA torture memos written under the Bush Administration that President Obama released to the public. Nope, you would be wrong about that. I’m referring to common hazing practices in high schools and colleges across the United States.

A comprehensive study completed by researchers at the University of Maine reports that almost half of the students in the study who are members of school clubs or teams reported experiencing hazing. Athletic team members experienced the highest percentage of hazing (47%). What’s worse, this study is a follow up of a similar study conducted by the researchers in 2000, and shows that there is little difference in the numbers of students experiencing hazing in 2000 and 2009.

In addition to the hazing activities listed above, forced consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol and getting a body piercing or tattoo rounded out the list of festivities common in school hazing.

On a particularly disturbing note, the researchers call attention to an increase in sexually-related hazing activities from 2000-2009. Many of these activities involve girls performing simulated sex acts on boys and other girls, boys performing simulated sex acts on girls and other boys as well as hazers performing actual sexual assaults on hazees with stuff like broomsticks and pine cones.

I know “teabagging” was a big activity this week as championed by anti-Obama protesters . I wonder how many of them know that teabagging’s original meaning is actually another hazing activity which involves having some guy on your team dangle his genitals in your face?

Unlike bullying where the bullies want to ostracize their victims or intentionally cause them harm, hazing is defended as a way to build team cohesion or as an initiation ritual to join the group that is hazing you. The pay offs are that you endure these humiliations and dangerous activities to become a part of the group and get to inflict them on someone else who wants to join the group the next year.
There are so many reasons to be depressed about all this. None the least of which is that there are still coaches, teachers and administrators who look the other way or, worse, encourage hazing as harmless fun, boys being boys, and increasingly, girls being girls.

When I was a camp counselor we sent new counselors on snipe hunts at night in the woods after the campers were asleep. The rest of us hid behind trees and rocks simulating snipe calls, not sex. I guess it was hazing then too, but it seems so innocent compared to what is happening now. Do high school and college aged students see hazing activities of today as we looked at snipe hunts back then? Is it that hazing activities must, to be exciting, continue to escalate – be more humiliating, more dangerous, more coercive? What is it about us that makes us want to exercise power over and “test” others who want to be in our group by degrading them, laughing at them or even injuring them as a way of “accepting” them?

What does it take for schools, parents, coaches, athletes and administrators to take hazing seriously? In cases where a student objects to hazing or, God forbid, blows the whistle on the fun, they are likely to be seen as a wimp or traitor or spoilsport by the rest of the group, including other hazees and coaches.

Unfortunately, it often takes some poor kid dying as a result of hazing to make the point. What a way to ruin the fun.


EC said...

ah tea-bagging. My gf and I ( who met through college x-country running) were just musing that we know what tea-bagging is b/c it was a much talked about activity amongst our male teammates. Not to let the women off the hook, we just lacked the body parts for that particular activity

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