ORONO, Maine — A few nights ago University of Maine professor Mary Madden was watching a clip from a baseball game on a national television news broadcast when she became a little frustrated.
The clip showed a rookie player who hit his first home run. When he returned to the dugout, the senior members of the team purposely ignored the rookie for a moment before bursting out into laughter and congratulations.
“[The anchorman] said something like, ‘[This is] the hazing of new rookies,’” Madden said Thursday evening. “He was laughing and it was a joke. But the thing is, every time we put professional athletes out there and label what they do as hazing, we create the normalization that younger people see and take with them into their own experiences.”
It was a timely moment for Madden and fellow UMaine faculty member Elizabeth J. Allan, who together opened on Thursday the two-day National Hazing Symposium at the University of Maine.
The symposium, in its sixth year and first in Orono, has drawn about 55 hazing researchers and experts from all over the U.S. and Canada. By the end of the event, Madden and Allan hope to have drafted a national agenda for hazing prevention with help from the symposium attendees, some of whom presented their own re-search Thursday.
“It will serve for us as a call for action,” said Madden, who is an associate research professor in the College of Education and Human Development. “We really want to promote change through our organized action.”
The UMaine researchers hope the national agenda will advance research that can be used to develop prevention efforts, expand advocacy for hazing prevention, and help organizations move toward preventing hazing.
“A lot of these things are already happening and have been for a while, but we would like to use [the symposium] to bring those efforts together in a more unified way,” said Allan, an associate professor of higher education.
Allan and Madden, who are considered national hazing experts, collaborated on the National Study on Hazing, released in 2008, in which more than 11,400 college students at 52 institutions across the country participated. It is the most comprehensive hazing study completed to date.
In their research, the two found that 55 percent of college students involved in a range of clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing. Allan and Madden also found that hazing occurs in student organizations such as honor societies, marching bands, and church and theater groups in addition to stereotypical hazing institu-tions such as college fraternities and athletics.
Common hazing practices mentioned in the study include alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation — such as that suffered by the rookie baseball player — sleep-deprivation and sex acts.
Many students reported the incidents were fun, helped build group bonds, or maintained group traditions.
“If we’re simply going to say, ‘Don’t do it,’ we to need to have something to replace it that will be equally as compelling and more beneficial for them,” said Alfred University researcher Norm Pollard, who presented some of his work.
UMaine celebrated National Hazing Prevention Week this year on Sept. 24 with signing of a hazing prevention statement that seeks to promote a haze-free environment for students.
The university has had to deal with occasional hazing incidents over the years. In August 2007, UMaine sanctioned three members of the school’s softball team after photographs of a hazing party were posted on the Internet.
Allan and Madden said UMaine is likely no different from any other school in dealing with hazing incidents. The softball incident, they added, may have helped improve hazing awareness.
“I think since then there has been a very concerted effort and strategy to work across different kinds of student organizations, to educate them, and help them understand,” Madden said.