The attempt of the members of a group (often a fraternity or sorority) to humiliate a person in the worst possible way, as a way of making sure the person is unable to think, act, or decide for themselves and will be perfect to mold into yet another copy. Occasionally causes death, but is not considered a problem because all the "cool people" have went through it.

I'm probably going to get a whole lot of flack for this, but it needs to be said.

I'm in a fraternity--you can figure out which one through some very minor poking around--and we are a hazing fraternity. So are the other 57 frats on campus. We have probably one of the easiest five pledgeships...but it still ain't no picnic. The phrase most often used to describe it is "The most fun five weeks you'll never, ever want to do again."

Most non-Greeks can't understand this--and admittedly, some Greeks don't either--but there's a right way to haze and a wrong way to haze. Yes, hazing is illegal. That's indisputable. But there's a big difference between teaching and sadism, and we do everything we can not to cross that line.

Do you think boot camp would be effective if the drill instructor stood at a blackboard in a lecture hall and politely asked the recruits questions? Obviously not. Fraternites operate on almost the same set of principles for new members: You will conform. You will do as you are told. We've done this before, we know what we're doing.

This accomplishes several things. First, it makes the pledge class stand together. They spend time with each other, they bond. They learn to work together against a common enemy. Second, it does make you care about the fraternity, for the simple reason that if you don't care about it by the end of pledgeship you wouldn't have put up with all the crap you had taken to get there. You're fighting for the right to be part of something you really believe in, and once you get it you'll do anything to protect it. Third, it gives you tradition. Certain songs on the radio that played a prominent role in some pledge activities...a bunch of us will be driving somewhere and one of them will come on, and everyone in the car will start smiling and singing along. Again, common bonds. Fourth, you do learn about the fraternity's history, which I doubt anyone can deny the importance of.

Ninety-nine percent of our hazing is mental. We're not out to kill anyone or even to hurt them. Some frats are out of control, yes, but most of the ones I've been in contact with have been doing this for so many years that everything runs like clockwork. There are contingency plans for everything, and every situation has already happened at least twice and been dealt with successfully.

I've seen non-hazing fraternities start up. Best case, it ends up a group of people living together, unmotivated to seek out new members. Worst case, it fails within a year. There's no cause, no goal, nothing to differentiate them from anyone else.

You may not like it, but that's why frats haze.

I was in a fraternity in college. A fraternity that not only did not haze, but was founded against the hazing then present at Virginia Military Institute by the hand of another fraternity that hazed until you agreed to join. I was not hazed, nor did I haze during my time there. I'm writing largely to point out the problems with hazing and the mentality that believes that hazing is a necessary part of many groups' initiation rituals.

So, how would you define hazing?
This is the definition I've liked best over the years. I found it my Sigma Nu Candidate Marshall Training Manual and found it again on the web:
Make the following inquiries of each activity to determine whether or not it is hazing.

  1. Is alcohol involved?
  2. Will active/current members of the group refuse to participate with the new members and do exactly what they're being asked to do?
  3. Does the activity risk emotional or physical abuse?
  4. Is there risk of injury or a question of safety?
  5. Do you have any reservation describing the activity to your parents, to a professor or University official?
  6. Would you object to the activity being photographed for the school newspaper or filmed by the local TV news crew?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," the activity is probably hazing.
from Death By Hazing Sigma Alpha Epsilon. 1988.

Who hazes?
Fraternities and sororities are two of the groups most often associated with hazing, but hazing is also performed by high school sports teams, high school clubs, and occasionally the military.

Why is hazing bad?

  • Those hazed can come to physical and mental harm
  • Creates resentment
  • Factionalizes the group -- each group of initiates may bind together, but they won't bind with the others.
  • Creates the impression that once one has "made it", the work is over
  • Encourages things being done only when one is forced to do them
  • Encourages conformity, sometimes to the point where you wind up with interchangeable components.
  • Doesn't foster respect
  • Most notably, the Alfred University hazing study turned up feelings about the event in those hazed similar to those that have suffered sexual harassment and even rape.

But if my fraternity/sorority/high school band/etc. doesn't haze, we'll lose cohesiveness and die!
First off, Sigma Nu doesn't haze. Several years ago, Sigma Nu celebrated being a national fraternity for 125 years. When I was an undergraduate, we worked together on things without complaint. If I had been hazed, would an upperclassman have felt comfortable coming to me needing to unburden about a sudden breakup? If I had hazed, would an underclassman have felt comfortable coming to me for advice on starting a relationship? People don't like to expose their weaknesses to those that have hurt them.

Unity comes from doing things together -- not pounding on people. If you can't build unity without beating people into submission, you lack any leadership skills. In fact, you have something in common with the pointy haired boss. I felt tremendous kinship with my brothers due to projects like work weekend, the annual canoe trip, and studying together. Would I have joined had I been hazed? I seriously doubt it.

But they (pledges/initiates/etc.) need to prove that they're worthy!
Let me get this straight. You are willing to extend an offer of possible membership to people whose worthiness you doubt?

Hey, wait. The military needs boot camp to produce good soldiers.
I agree. There is a difficult line there, but there are two important things to note:

  1. The military needs conformity more than any civilian organization that performs hazing needs it. I doubt your average high school show choir, for instance, is going to have to take out a machine gun nest.
  2. There is a difference between military training and boot camp activities and things such as pinning. For instance, many military activities are designed to build endurance needed in a combat environment. However, pinning does not make the person more resistant to being poked with a pin. It doesn't even make them more resistant to torture.

For more information, consult these resources: - StopHazing, - The Alfred University Hazing Study, - Information on anti-hazing laws.
Being a high schooler, and having made it through freshman year without being hazed, it has occured to me that hazing is an entirely useless and idiotic practice. In my opinion, it is nothing but a power trip for the seniors. It's like they're saying "I'm bigger than you and I'll do whatever I damn well please to you, and you'd better like it."

You see, being an athlete, (where hazing most oftenly occurs before the college years of fraternities and sororites) I made it clear that I had no intention of getting hazed. I vehemently opposed hazing. I was not hazed. I still became very close to all of my teammates, and was definitely a part of the team. I've heard all sorts of bogus explanations for hazing, such as "It's a tradition, everyone gets hazed" "It makes the freshmen feel like part of the team" etc. Every one of these excuses is lame. Ask any freshman whether they'd prefer to be hazed or not, (those that haven't been brainwashed into believing that not only is it fun but nescessary to be hazed for them to fit into the high school culture) and they will reply that they DO NOT WANT TO BE HAZED. There is a good reason for hazing to be illegal. Often the boys' teams hazing rituals involve getting the haze-ee plastered, and then humiliating him. This encourages underage drinking. This is very bad for athletes. Other forms of hazing involve making the haze-ees dress up as a member of the opposite sex, or dressing them up in ridiculous manners and painting their faces. This is humiliating for most people.

I wish I could teach freshmen to stand up for themselves, and not take this kind of abuse without fighting. NO one should respect anyone else merely because of their age, or lack thereof. People should be respected for who they are, not what year in high school have acheived. Seniors only haze to justify their hazing experiences, and it is time to stop this process. Report hazing, and if you are a senior, think about what psychological and physical effects you can create in someone. You can humiliate them and make them hate you, or treat them with respect, and maybe form some close friendships.

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