ORONO, Maine — A pair of University of Maine researchers knew hazing ran far deeper than most people realized, far beyond fraternities and football teams. They proved it with the most ambitious survey to date of hazing on college campuses, and followed up with a survey of high school hazing.
They also know that efforts to prevent hazing aren’t working. Now they want to find out what works and begin implementing successful strategies.
This week, professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden are launching a “National Agenda for Hazing Prevention in Education” that’s aimed at implementing research-based hazing prevention efforts.
“Often in academia, you research and publish in a journal, but you’re not sure how your research gets translated. We’re making a concerted effort to move that research into action,” Madden said.
In 2008, Allan and Madden documented the extent of hazing with a survey that for the first time went beyond fraternities and sororities and sports teams to look at glee clubs, bands and even honor societies. They found hazing was happening in virtually all campus organizations.
All told, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams or other extracurricular organizations were hazed, the researchers said. Hazing ranged from public stunts to drinking games, with 8 percent of the students drinking to the point of getting sick or passing out, they said.
The researchers define hazing as any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that has potential to humiliate, degrade, abuse or harm. The most dangerous practices include excessive drinking, isolation, sleep deprivation and sex acts.
Hazing is nothing new, of course.
Educators and coaches have known for years that hazing continues despite efforts to tamp it down. But it wasn’t until a decade ago that researchers began to understand the full breadth of hazing in colleges and high schools, said Norm Pollard, dean of students at Alfred University in western New York.
While they’re making strides in understanding the extent of hazing, and some of the dynamics, educators still don’t have a handle on best practices for eliminating it, Pollard said.
Simply telling students not to haze isn’t enough, he said. Instead, groups need to be taught effective team-building exercises that do not involve dangerous rituals.
“From adolescent psychology, we know that desire to be part of a group is a fundamental part of growing up. We need to show them how to do it in more effective ways,” he said.
Madden and Allan say people have reached out to them after their original research was published, expressing gratitude that someone had documented what they were seeing.
Then those people asked for solutions.
Madden and Allan say it’ll be a couple of years before they zero in on effective solutions based on research. In the meantime, they’ll continue to work to educate people about the perils of hazing.
“We’ve got a long, long way to go,” Allan said. “There’s still widespread misunderstanding, misconception … and dismissal of the potential harms of hazing.”