Defining Hazing

Hazing is an act of control over others that feels abusive or embarrassing and can be life-threatening. Hazing takes various forms, typically involving physical risks or mental distress through humiliating, intimidating, or demeaning treatment.

Although initiation practices can help new members become part of a group, they should not involve hazing.

Hazing is any action or situation that:

  • Recklessly or intentionally endangers mental or physical health
  • Creates substantial embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule
  • Involves the forced consumption of food, alcohol, or drugs in the course of initiation or continuing affiliation with an organization.

“Subtle” hazing refers to activities that are often taken for granted or accepted as “harmless” or meaningless. There is an emphasis placed on a power imbalance between new members and other members of the organization, thus leading to activities or attitudes that breach reasonable standards of mutual respect, and place new members on the receiving end of ridicule or embarrassment. New members often feel the need to endure subtle hazing to feel like part of the organization. Examples include:

  • Requiring new members to perform unnecessary duties not assigned to existing members
  • Required calisthenics such as sit-ups or push-ups, or other forms of physical exercise
  • Sleep deprivation
  • The assignment of meaningless and sometimes impossible tasks
  • Required “greeting” of members in a specific manner when seen on campus
  • Required carrying of certain items
  • Required walking in groups to class, the cafeteria, etc.
  • Restriction of communication

“Harassment” hazing confuses, frustrates, and causes undue stress for new members. This behavior has the potential to cause emotional anguish and/or physical discomfort. (Note: Some types of harassment hazing can also be considered violent hazing.) Examples include: 

  • Yelling or screaming
  • Personal servitude or chores
  • Lineups for the purpose of interrogating, demeaning, or intimidating
  • Wearing of embarrassing or uncomfortable clothing
  • Assigning pranks such as stealing, painting objects, or harassing other organizations
  • Forced confinement
  • Being dropped off somewhere and forced to find the way back

“Violent” hazing is behavior that has the potential to cause physical, emotional, and/or psychological harm. It often includes activities that tend to be the most extreme types of hazing. Examples include: 

  • Capturing or kidnapping
  • Total or partial nudity
  • Compelled sexual activity
  • Pushing, shoving, tackling, or any other physical contact
  • Forced consumption of any liquid or food
  • Paddling or whipping
  • Branding, cutting, labeling, or shaving parts of the body

Joining a Campus Group

Being part of a campus group can be a life-changing and positive aspect of the student experience. Colgate University features hundreds of clubs and organizations that can be fun, educational, and transformational for their members.

Hazing undermines the value of these experiences and puts students at risk. Students should not be deterred from engaging with their peers in campus organizations by fear of hazing but should be vigilant in recognizing hazing risks and practices. No one should be subjected to hazing as a condition for acceptance into a group, and students are encouraged to report any incident they experience or witness.

Policy & Law

Hazing is a violation of Colgate University policy and New York State Law. Learn more about applicable policies and laws in the Student Handbook. The consequences for perpetrators of hazing may include prison sentences and civil liability depending on the seriousness of the offense.

Groups that violate the university hazing policy will forfeit recognition of their organization as noted in the relationship statement.

Fraternities and Sororities

In addition to university policy and state law, the national/international organizations governing fraternities and sororities may impose sanctions of these organizations, independently or in concert with the University. Consequences may include the disbanding or recolonizing of the chapter.

The Role of Alcohol

Hazing does not necessarily involve alcohol use by either current or new members, however, alcohol consumption often is either a central or contributing element.

Alcohol frequently plays a role because:

  • In perpetrators: It can promote "strategic disinhibition," reducing the anxiety and guilt caused by subjecting others to distress. Alcohol enables the temporary suspension of moral standards.
  • In targets: decreases resistance to participation in risky behavior. When combined with a lack of knowledge about the activity, being intoxicated further lowers the targets' power relative to those hazing them.

Invalid Excuses

Many perpetrators often turn to intoxication as a defense, pointing to their inebriation as an excuse — "we were drunk and things got out of hand."

Another common argument employed by those accused of hazing is that they did not "force anyone to drink." Comments such as "No one poured it down their throats," and "They could have walked out at any time" ignore the reality of coercive power in groups and the fact that psychological force can be as strong as physical force.

These defenses are neither valid legally, nor valid in Colgate disciplinary hearings.

Safety and Health Risks of Alcohol and Hazing

When hazing involves alcohol, there are significant risks, including premature death.

Rapid consumption of large quantities of alcohol can kill by suppressing brain functions:

  • A person can pass out and then drown in his or her own vomit because of an impaired gag reflex.
  • A person can pass out and then suffocate with his or her face in a pillow.
  • A person's breathing or heartbeat can stop.

 

One in 10 college or university students report worrying that they might have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. New member processes that involve alcohol pose extra risk for students with alcohol problems.

In some cases, members are either unaware of such risks or recklessly disregard them. By creating conditions where it is difficult for a person with an alcohol problem to decline to drink, the group contributes to the person's problem.

In addition to increasing their own risk of the acute and long-term individual consequences described above, members who haze risk harming others and bringing sanctions upon themselves or their organization. When the members of a group that is hazing become intoxicated, they may make disastrous decisions. Impaired judgment can turn a premeditated act of hazing into a tragedy. One of the biggest challenges with hazing is that it gets out of hand, and what begins as an innocent prank can lead to disaster.

Students involved with hazing are significantly more likely to have a lower grade point average (GPA). This is because activities such as sleep deprivation, loss of time management, and stress can all contribute to decreased scholastic performance.

Call for Help

Whenever a person is severely intoxicated, it is imperative that someone call 911 for medical assistance. Every student should be familiar with the signs of alcohol poisoning and Colgate's Medical Amnesty and Good Samaritan protocols.

It is never worth risking someone's life for the sake of the group. When someone does the right thing and calls for help, Colgate administrators consider the act of calling a mitigating circumstance when determining any sanctions that might apply to an organization. Not calling is an aggravating circumstance that may result in more severe sanctions.

Adapted from hazing.cornell.edu