An Analysis from a Communication Ethics Perspective
Alfred University Senior Paper, May 2000
By Michael Pellicciotti
Initiation is an important part of forming a group. It gives new members a sense of belonging, it builds common experiences among the whole group and sets norms among them necessary for performing. It is also an essential aspect of gaining acceptance into an organization (Driver, 1998). Not every form of initiation is hazing. Communitas is the ultimate goal of initiation. It is the causing of community spirit, equality, and togetherness for new members (Myers, 2000). "This Communitas is the central positive function of initiation rituals...thoughtfully constructed initiation rituals can play a constructive role in a group" (Myers, 2000). It is a three-part process where people who are initiated are separated from others, given information, usually secretive, and go through some ritual and become a member of the group (Myers, 2000). After passing this liminal stage, the period between being introduced to the organization and becoming a full, member, the individual has completed initiation (Myers, 2000).
What is Hazing?
When initiation activities promote or "produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule," hazing occurs (Hazing Defined, 2000). The Alfred University Hazing Study (1999) defines hazing as "any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of the person's willingness to participate." This paper will examine the causes and effects of hazing in sports and Greek life.
Initiation of new members is an essential part of being a new member of an organization. Although the intention behind hazing may be positive, it is antithetical to and does not successfully achieve the purpose of initiating new members.
THE PURPOSE OF HAZING
All organizations need new members to continue. "Hazing reassures senior members that the new people value membership in the group" (Nuwer, 1999). These new inductees are more likely than non-hazed members to keep the organization much like the senior members left it (Nuwer, 1999).
The process of initiation can be divided into hazing activities specifically designed to achieve a purpose. For example, a fraternity or sorority may require push-ups, shouting, or public embarrassment of individual pledges to punish or "shape-up" new members "who are perceived to be dragging down the group or have been disrespectful" (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000). An organization might also have excessive physical or mental demands on the pledge group as a whole to instill pledge class unity, or have a pre-initiation or "hell" week with strenuous physical and mental events to "create a climax to the pledge program or [to] develop a true appreciation of initiation" (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000). Those who defend hazing praise its ability to add order and structure to environments. The following are statements by those who support its use:
"Hazing taught me to humble myself, listen to authority, [and] interact with several people closer than most people do with their best friend, siblings or family. Most of all, hazing taught me my personal limits on pushing myself beyond that I ever have had to overcome. It taught me to me [sic] mentally and physically resourceful, both by myself and with others" (Prohazing Email Comments, 2000).
"There must be order. There must be structure. There must be discipline. Paper-working people to death only kills trees, which should be a much larger concern that the mere whimpering of a few people who may have gotten themselves into a situation they can't handle, or perhaps have the ability, but lack of motivation to use it effectively to a positive end. What you loosely define as 'hazing' is not evil, nor is it morally wrong. It is something that should be administered well, and administered often" (Prohazing Email Comments, 2000).
The purpose of fraternities, sororities, and sports teams is to form a union. In order for an organization to work effectively as a team, initiation must develop unity. Some of those who haze feel that it is a way for these groups to develop unification.
THE EFFECTS AND ETHICAL CONSEQUENCES OF HAZING
Despite the purposes of hazing, there are negative results from its use. Hazing tends to give the participants a type of commonality, they have gone through an experience together and made it (Cerio, 2000). In this process, however, hazing is highly abusive behavior that one does so to get to the next level from a group. "The secrecy is that if you haven't been though it, you can't understand" (Cerio, 2000). This secrecy is what leads to many of the negative hazing effects. "It gives the significance of the ritual. The person hazing is in complete control. You are absolutely their captive" (Pollard, 2000).
The most pronounced side effect of hazing is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Pollard, 2000). "The ingredients that go into a hazing provide fertile ground for [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]" (Pollard, 2000). "You have an idea that something is going to occur but you don't know how, when it'll end, or what will happen. You don't know what you need to do to make it stop" (Pollard, 2000).
There are other dangerous psychological effects from hazing. "At the extreme, people after hazing suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. More particularly, those who go through hazing and fail...go through those issues of self-esteem and anxiety" (Cerio, 2000). There are also negative issues related to the parent-child relationship during hazing. The process of hazing separates the parent from the child (Cerio, 2000).
Because of these effects, there is a double message in hazing. The new members are being told that they are wanted, and would be a valued member of the team. In the meantime, however, those hazing are doing everything in their power to aggravate the initiate and make them suffer (Pollard, 2000). Those hazing are saying that "we want you, but at the same time we'll treat you less than human" (Pollard, 2000).
Hazing also causes negative reactions to the purposes behind their actions. The examples provided earlier in the paper that highlight excessive physical and mental demands on new members to achieve purposes like unity and discipline also defeat the intent of initiation (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000). For example, requiring push-ups, shouting, or public embarrassments for a particular, new member can lead to only a temporary suppression of a disciplinary problem. Once the pledge is initiated, he or she will not likely continue to perform in the best interest of the organization (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000). This type of discipline toward an entire new member group can also have negative effects. It develops an attitude that pledging is a hardship, not an educational period, and that initiation is the end of one's work for the organization instead of the beginning. This can create a general lack of participating or interest in the membership (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000).
Excessive physical or mental demands on a new member group which intends to develop unity can cause separate units in the group and defeat the purpose of developing a true unified organization. Senior members of the group will always be disunited from the newer members (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000). Also, pre-initiations or "hell" weeks with strenuous programs and events make new members happy to be done with pledging, not honored to be initiated. "The climax really arrives when the pre-initiation week ends, not when initiation begins" (Why Hazing Doesn't Work, 2000).
WHY HAZING CONTINUES
People engaged in hazing usually accept its effects. "A new group member who refuses to accept hazing is usually (although unfairly) considered a deviant, according to researchers in group behavior" (Nuwer, 1999). Through the socialization process that students face throughout their development, they are unlikely to help someone in a crisis. This is especially true if a group is attacking an individual (Nuwer, 1999).
It all stems from a need to be accepted. "Group psychologist Irving L. Janis explained hazing by recognizing that people need to be valued by their peers. Hazing allows for this acceptance and it is hard for outsiders, especially school administrators, to understand this" (Nuwer, 1999).
Hazing can have good intentions. The ultimate purpose of hazing, and any form of initiation, is to bring new members into a group and develop unity in the group. The negative effects of hazing, however, do not allow for the true development of Communitas. Community spirit, equality, and togetherness for new members does not develop when individuals feel violated, harassed, or unequal to other members of the group. A group can develop unity through acceptable forms of initiations like, pre-season training, keeping a specific grade point average, dressing for team functions, attending a team roast or skit night, doing community service, going on a picnic, or completing a ropes course (Alfred University, 1999). For an initiation to be successful in achieving its purpose, it must allow for the education of new members while having them experience commonality and develop connections as members of the same organization. Only then will an initiation achieve its ultimate purpose of producing a unified group.
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