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The Issue of Hazing in University Campuses

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Hazing is a problem affecting adolescents and young adults on many college campuses (Allan & Madden, 2008). Between 1838 and 1969, 35 deaths transpired on university campuses as a result of college hazing or alcohol abuse. Within 30 years, that number increased to over 210 deaths (Nuwer, 1999) and has continued to rise. High profile hazing deaths have caused criminal conviction of college students, the indictment of college administrators, and millions of dollars in compensatory damages awarded to the families of hazing victims (Rutledge, 1998). While hazing exists in various college organizations, it is most commonly connected with Greek Life. Universities and fraternal organizations allocate large amounts of resources in terms of both time and money to combat college hazing, yet it perseveres. According to Campuspeak – a company that provides speakers and training programs to various educational institutions and organizations – college campuses and national Greek Life organizations spend nearly $700,000 with their company for hazing prevention programs. The problem is so prevalent that some colleges have gone so far as to ban fraternities and sororities from their campuses because of liability concerns related to alcohol and hazing. While there are numerous studies that have analyzed the perceived negative effects of hazing, there is no high-quality research showing the long-term negative impacts of hazing victimization. Much of what we know regarding the effects of hazing comes from anecdotal evidence. In the short term, hazing victims have reported experiencing physical trauma, depression and anxiety, feelings of guilt, lowered self-esteem and problems developing relationships.

Nonetheless, hazing is not only a public health concern. Various studies have indicated that Greek Life membership, and probably the hazing inherent in that membership, has a negative impact on a number of cognitive and academic outcomes for first-year college students, including lower levels of critical thinking, reading apprehension and mathematical skill. Not only that, but many first-year students also experience higher levels of academic dishonesty, and lower levels of moral judgment and moral action.

Various researches have suggested that numerous environmental factors can affect the correlation between moral judgment and moral action (Bandura, 1991). These environmental factors are the core of the moral disengagement theory created by Albert Bandura. Bandura’s theory suggests that moral standards are created over time through socialization and exposure to various ideas regarding right and wrong. These standards do not, however, function as fixed internal controls. Rather, Bandura suggests, the power of taking moral action requires what he refers to as “self-censure,” a means by which individuals examine the consequences of their actions based on their “internalized” moral standards. In polarizing moral disengagement from moral judgment, Bandura suggests that traditional measures of moral judgment forget to take into consideration the process by which individuals apply moral standards to their day-to-day lives, and propose that moral reasoning is rendered into action through self-regulatory procedures (Bandura et al., 1996). Bandura has recognized 8 procedures by which people will disengage from these moral self-sanctions and engage in behaviors that would otherwise violate their moral standards. The environment and social atmosphere surrounding an individual can trigger one, or all, of these procedures in a way that allows people to disengage from their morality and more easily commit an action that goes against their ethics (Bandura, 2002). As stated by Bandura (2002), “it requires conducive social conditions rather than monstrous people to produce atrocious deeds. Given appropriate social conditions, decent, ordinary people can do extraordinarily cruel things.” A study done with college students engaging in hazing activities found that these individuals perceive a number of positive outcomes associated with college hazing but only minimal negative ramifications. Students often list a number of positive outcomes of college hazing and try to justify the behavior. This includes but is not limited to the building of group unity, and creating a sense of accomplishment. In addition, these students often use rationalization as a way of avoiding to report hazing activities to authorities. Such responses as “it made me a better man,” and “the sense of accomplishment afterwards outweighed the pain or stress felt during the activities” were repeatedly used as rationalizations for not reporting college hazing activities (Allan & Madden, 2008)

When individuals participate in these demoralizing activities, they may avoid facing the results of their actions by limiting the amount of harm that they cause (Bandura, 2002). As long as the harmful consequences of their conduct are ignored, then self-censure can be easily deactivated. This procedure is best explained by the experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram. In his study, he measured the willingness of his participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their own conscience. The participants believed that they were helping with an unrelated experiment, in which they had to regulate electric shocks to a ‘learner.’ These fake electric shocks continuously increased to levels that would have been deathly if they had been real.

What Miligram found was that when pain was done to the victims, most of the participants inflicted the maximum amount of voltage. This decreased when participants were able to hear the learner, and decreased again when they could both see and hear the learner, and finally decreased down to less than 30% when the participants were in immediate physical proximity to the learner. It became more challenging for Miligram’s participants when the results of their actions became more and more obvious (Milgram, 1974). In regards to fraternity hazing, this procedure is confirmed by these results of Miligram’s experiment. Minimization was found to be one of the main reasons that students did not report college hazing activities to authorities. Nonetheless, a number of students reported that hazing was “no big deal” or that hazing was justified because “no one was harmed” in the process (Allan & Madden, 2008).

Most researchers that study and analyze college hazing agree that hazing is more accepted in fraternities than in any other social organizations. These findings are homogeneous with the overwhelmingly large amount of new reports evolving around hazing-related deaths with fraternity members. Although it is generally accepted that hazing-related deaths are pretty underreported, 23 students have died from hazing incidents in 2000, 24 in 2001, and 42 in 2002. Nuwer (2011) reported that 27 hazing deaths have occurred between 2002 and 2010.

Discernment of hazing on college campuses are a huge motivational factor behind hazing-related activities. Most college students who are involved in fraternities think that hazing is worse in other clubs and organizations on their campus than in their own (Owen et al., 2008). This finding submits that hazing is shaped by “campus mythology” and that unreliable information can result in twisted perceptions of the true reality of college hazing on university campuses. When used in combination with another study which found that believing your friends approve of college hazing increases the your own chances of participating (Campo et al., 2005), you can start to sew together how college students allow their perceptions, or misperceptions, about hazing to impact their overall attitude and disposition to participate, either as a victim or a culprit. Hazing also perpetuates a “cycle of violence” in which students that deal and have dealt with hazing as a victim are more likely to support hazing and participate in hazing-related activities in the future (Owen et al., 2008). Much like perceptions of hazing, the experience that college students have with hazing is often representative an environmental factor that allows students to rationalize with their participation in these types of hazing activities.

In summary, hazing is a major issue in university campuses, particularly within fraternity and sorority groups. Hazing has lead to numerous deaths and serious psychological and physical injuries and problems. A number of college students that belong to these types of organizations participate in college hazing, even though an large majority do not consider themselves to have been hazed. Misperception, experience and other non-cognitive factors play a role in allowing students to justify hazing behavior on college campuses.  

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