to Write a Hazing Policy: A Work in Progress.
it does not seem possible to sort of take a cookie cutter
and dough to make 100 policies for 100 schools, certain guidelines
are possible to make. I was requested by the National Federation
of State High School Associations to offer some tips for writing
a policy. Bearing in mind that I am not an attorney and therefore
make this full disclaimer that legal advice may be different,
here are some things I would recommend after years of researching
this subject. This is a work in progress in a way, and I encourage
input from students, parents, coaches, principals, advisors,
attorneys, judges, police, and members of the public: contact
me at email@example.com
with criticism or suggestions. June 14, 2002.
need a definition. Here is one approximate definition as
a starting point for your school, acknowledging that this
is just a starting point and is being written by a journalist-teacher,
not a lawyer. (Coming up with a definition takes time and
must not allow special interests at a school to devise written
loopholes). Hazing is any action or verbal abuse created
intentionally (which may have unintended consequences) on
or off school grounds, with or without the newcomer's consent,
to produce fatigue, humiliation, a sense of being sexually
assaulted or physically threatened, private or public ridicule,
mental or physical harm or injury (including intoxication)
to a person in the context of initiating that person into
a student group. Also forbidden is all intimidation prior
to a hazing or the invention of hazing acts that are conveyed
to a newcomer to intimidate or frighten-even if the team
or individual has no intent of doing those misdeeds. (At
some point, an attorney should be brought into discussions
to help devise a definition that protects both the students
and the school, even while assuring the civil rights of
all parties concerned, including hazed and hazer. For example,
punishments should be same for each gender, especially if
males and females are involved in same hazing as with band
hazing. As another example, punishments may involve additional
penalties if other circumstances occur such as forced drinking,
giving alcohol to minors, assault or improper touching/taping/abuse
of another person's body, gang activities, or destruction/theft
2) Early on, schools need to decide if they want a hazing
policy separately or a hazing, harassment, and bullying
policy. All need to emphasize that wrong past traditions
cannot be continued just because someone was abused or injured
himself or herself. Just as we all have seen court trials
where someone accused of a crime has been abused himself
or herself, it is at best a mitigating circumstance and
NEVER one that gets the hazer off the hook.
need to have a statute of limitations in place for reporting
non-criminal and criminal hazing. The latter is obviously
more serious and should correspond to how long a student
may have in the community "timewise" to successfully
have a criminal hazing brought to court. Should a junior
or senior be punished for a hazing that occurred two years
earlier? Discussion before the fact is crucial here. Parents
of sophomores who are punished for hazing frequently demand
punishment for those who "taught" their sons or
daughters to haze. In some cases (such as sexual assault
or paddling), it may be most useful to get input from judges,
police officers, or others in the community with specific
need to have a clear policy for action (e.g., getting help
for an injured victim, reporting to police, counseling for
victims and in some cases hazers) if a coach or teacher
or outsider (parent, gang member, team member from another
school at sports camp, an alum) joins in during a hazing
or even orchestrates what happens. Sins of omission where
a coach or teacher makes himself or herself scarce when
a hazing is about to occur also need to be set down. Likewise,
prevention methods need to be addressed. Students left unattended
on a team bus while the coach or band director is off the
bus have been scenarios that have gone badly wrong in terms
of criminal hazing assaults and harassment that occurred.
The policy needs to address what constitutes "reasonable"
hazing situations find parents thrust into the middle of
the situation. Very few schools, if any, have a "Parent's
Guide to Hazing." In this writer's opinion, having
such a handbook for distribution can only help the school
and the parent. Parental input can be useful here before
the fact. After the fact, one sad thing about post-hazing
controversy is how parents of hazers can make pariahs of
victims, can give their sons or daughters justification
for doing what had been tradition, etc. But parents of sophomore
athletes or club members being punished for hazing have
also demanded that juniors and seniors be punished for hazing
offenses from a year or two ago. See number three.
policy needs to frame and give examples of reasonable punishment
for a hazing offense-again, distinguishing a major offense
(or minor one in which something goes horribly wrong) from
a minor offense.
by step guidelines as to what reasonable response a school
will make if an infraction occurs (notifications of parents/schoolboard
and or police, suspension from activities, judicial or school
serious studies of hazing. His New York state principal
halted one coach's M.A. survey of other coaches in 2001.
For background, panelists may want to obtain an August 1999
study by Alfred University that establishes how many athletes
claim to have been hazed and how hazing frequently starts
in junior high school or high school-creating an environment
where hazing is acceptable.
need to be aware that hazing is not the same as discipline,
that acceptance on a team comes from effort, ability, and
coach/adviser decision making-not being able to endure foolish,
humiliating or (potentially) dangerous/deadly practices.
Schools should consult the web site of attorney Douglas
Fierberg who prosecutes high school and college hazing cases
to get his no-nonsense take on what constitutes reasonable
policies and post-hazing school action. http://www.hazinglaw.com/
Schools need to discuss how to deal with members of a team
or club who may not be active participants in a hazing but
who either encourage the heavy hazers by giving them a certain
status or who do nothing when criminal, dangerous, or humiliating
activity occurs right before their eyes. (This is too complex
to discuss here. See my "Greekthink" chapter in
Wrongs of Passage and my "High School Hazing"
book, available from many libraries or from the publishers,
Indiana University Press (Wrongs) and Franklin Watts (HS
Punishments must fit the crime, not be decided by what the
majority of parents want to occur. The punishment should
serve as a deterrent, but the only way it can become a deterrent
is if students are made aware of just how their lives and
those of others can be affected by a single hazing incident-even
one that is done and over in a few seconds.
criminal hazing and/or hazing that amounts to a major school
offense occurs such as assault and paddling, contact with
another's body in an improper or offensive manner, physical
abuse (e.g., hogtying someone and leaving the person in
an embarrassing (as without clothes) or dangerous circumstance,
the policy should allow for expulsion and/or suspension
procedures. In cases of alleged criminal misconduct, police
and/or a local prosecutor should take over the investigation,
while a school may wish to investigate. It is not unusual
for students to be suspended or punished, then face criminal
penalties as well. A good policy and making students well
aware of that policy goes a long way toward a hazing student's
"I didn't know" defense.
get complicated when a potentially non-criminal event escalates
because an accident occurs. At the college level, so many
"harmless" pranks have gone wrong with permanent
injury or, in a few cases, death resulting, that students
need to be aware that they also will be held accountable
for the more severe punishment if a hazing (that normally
would get them just detention or a one-game or one-activity
suspension) goes terribly wrong. EG, the student baseball
player in Colorado who was paralyzed being made by veterans
to slide into a mudhole on the diamond after severe rains.
They also need to know that first-year students at the college
level have retaliated, and this gets both groups in severe
trouble when an assault and/or shooting occur. One student
who had been hazed went to jail in 2002 for striking a hazer.
The new students need to know that their rights end short
of retaliation with assault or by banding together to do
reverse hazing. Too few policies address this issue.
How to Attack Hazing: This is the information I gave
that was put on the 20/20 web site:
author of High School Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs offers
these suggestions to help curtail this pervasive problem:
establish welcome programs for first-year and transfer students.
Rites of passage are integral and valuable in welcoming
new members to a group or students to a school, but mentoring
programs are more constructive than pledging rituals.
all traditions in all school groups. The school choir is
just as likely as the football team to have its own traditions.
Faculty members need to be aware of what goes on in each
your school to adopt a statement of awareness. Signing a
written statement agreeing to a specific policy raises awareness
of hazing and instills a sense of accountability in all
a spirit of camaraderie. One form of hazing is having younger
students perform chores like carrying equipment. If everyone
shares in these responsibilities, a better team spirit is
supervision at all group functions. Simply having an adult
or teacher present at all times can go a long way in deterring
hazing and preventing groups of kids from getting out of
cover up hazing incidents. A "conspiracy of silence"
often feeds off itself and becomes difficult to stop. If
you witness an episode of hazing, report it immediately
so it can be dealt with right away.
the risk of hazing. Only a zero-tolerance attitude will
create an environment in which hazing is not accepted. Letting
episodes slide is counter-productive to stopping hazing.
hazing activists for guidance. Don't lead the crusade alone.
Anti-hazing activists and groups are there to assist those
less experienced in fighting a widespread problem.
confuse discipline with abuse. Working hard, fostering teamwork,
enforcing rules and learning fundamentals are all part of
discipline and should be accepted by players and students.
Shoving or verbally taunting someone is abuse and should
never be tolerated by anyone.
PS: Several people
have asked for an institutional definition of hazing that
seems to fit. Here is the Cornell University definition --
I like it. I would include team even if that is somewhat redundant,
and I've put that into parentheses.
It reads: "Hazing is defined as an act that, as an explicit
or implicit condition for initiation to, admission into, affiliation
with, or continued membership in a group or organization (team),
could be seen by a reasonable person as endangering the physical
health of an individual or as causing mental distress to an
individual through, for example, humiliating, intimidating,
or demeaning treatment; destroys or removes public or private
property; involves the consumption of alcohol, other drugs,
or other substances; or violates any of the policies of the