Hazing: A professor speaks up

Patty Kleban, a Penn State professor, lamented the dangers surrounding hazing in a recent article on StateCollege.com. Kleban reflects on recent college hazing incidents including one on her own campus, and she argues that all play a role in curtailing the behavior. As a college professor, she keenly, and regularly, observes behaviors associated with hazing and coercion–students wreaking of beer, sleep deprived young men, a student coming to class barefoot.

However, Kleban’s most perinent comment is not one on the subject of stopping hazing. Instead, she recognizes that hazing  has been engrained in our culture since the 16th century;

According to Hank Nuwer, author and expert on hazing, rituals forced on new members of a group go back as far as the 16th century. The idea that one must prove strength, loyalty and dedication to the group while senior group members assess membership appropriateness has roots in preparation for war and has been rationalized as part of the bonding process.

Hazing, according to Nuwer, is not limited by gender, age, ethnicity or the group’s primary activity. For centuries, hazing was accepted and condoned.

In recognizing that hazing has persisted through time, Klebal acknowledges that the practice may be difficult to terminate.

However, we might truly begin to reduce this increasingly scary practice by teaching young people how to handle alcohol approriately. If college students existed in a society that taught them to consume, and behave, responsibly, we might begin to see a pendulum shift.

Understanding that alcohol is meant to be enjoyed appropriately may prevent some from using it in hazing practices. With hazing, alcohol–when one has not been taught to respect it–becomes a physical manifestation of a power struggle between young and old, new and experienced. Respecting the drink may lead to respecting each other.


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