Hazing refers to any activity expected of someone in joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person's willingness to participate.
Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including gangs, sports teams, schools, cliques, universities, military units, prisons and fraternities and sororities. The initiation rites can range from relatively benign pranks to protracted patterns of behavior that rise to the level of criminal misconduct. In the most extreme, hazing has had fatal consequences.
While the hazing experience is intended to increase commitment by new members, both to the other members and the purpose of the group, the abusive actions have led to numerous complaints and efforts to curtail the practice. In fact, hazing is often prohibited by Law or by institutions such as colleges and universities because it may include either physical or psychological abuse. However, due to the secretive nature of the initiation activities in many groups, and the senior members' unwillingness to forego the opportunity to be the perpetrators of acts similar to those they were victims of, this has been difficult to enforce.
Psychology, sociology, purpose and effects
The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is not clearly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing.
Initiation rituals, such as those employed in hazing, have been theorized to lead to the development of social cohesion though group identification and identity fusion. As well as group attraction, hazing initiations can also produce conformity among new members.
Hazing supposedly serves a deliberate purpose of building solidarity. Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses the framework of consistency and commitment to explain the phenomenon of hazing and the vigor and zeal to which practitioners of hazing persist in and defend these activities even when they are made illegal. Studies of hazing in college fraternities and sororities, suggest that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is then thought to produce feelings of strong group attraction among initiates after the experience, because they want to justify the effort expended.
On the other hand, rewards during mild initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity: A reward led to higher group identity than no reward. ... Interestingly, a mild initiation followed by a reward led to more group identity than a severe initiation followed by a reward. Such findings support the idea of group socialization proposed by Levine and Moreland in which the relationship between the individual and the group "is assumed to change in systematic ways over time and both parties are viewed as active social influence agents."
There are several psychological effects that both the hazer and hazee endure throughout the hazing process. Hazing can result in some positive outcomes: During the hazing process, a bond between the two parties (the hazer and the hazee) grows. Many people view hazing as an effective way to teach respect and develop discipline and loyalty within the group, and believe that hazing is a necessary component of initiation rites.
In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out the weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms.
Traditionally, college fraternities and sororities conduct initiation rituals known as hazing for potential new members ("Pledges"). Hazing activities can involve forms of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public, while other hazing incidents are akin to pranks. A "snipe hunt" is such a prank, when a newcomer or credulous person is given an impossible task, such as being sent to find a tin of Tartan paint, or a "dough repair kit" in a bakery.
Spanking may be involved, mainly in the form of paddling, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture, or a pillow. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks. This practice is also used in the military.
Submission to senior members of the group is common, often with meaningless tests of obedience such as waiting on others (as at fraternity parties) or various other forms of housework. In some cases, the hazee may be made to eat raw eggs, peppers, hot sauce, or drink too much alcohol. Some hazing even includes eating or drinking vile things such as bugs or rotting food.
The hazee may have to wear an imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include a uniform (such as a toga); a leash or collar; infantile and other humiliating dress and attire; and partial (or possibly complete) nudity.
Hazing is a widespread phenomenon, known by a variety of terms and practiced in various institutions around the world. It is particularly popular in educational and military contexts, although other clubs and groups may also have hazing rituals for new recruits.
Hazing practices in fraternity life began to appear shortly after the Civil War. Veterans brought the hazing practices of their battalions back with them, adopting such activities into fraternity life. The purpose of hazing was perceived as a way of providing young males an outlet to prove their manliness through rites and trials, showing themselves to be men and not boys. Other hazing practices served to put an individual in his place, reducing his sense of personal omnipotence to "subsume his individuality into something larger and better than himself."
A 2007 survey at American colleges found 55 percent of students in "clubs, teams, and organizations" experienced behavior the survey defined as hazing, including in varsity athletics and Greek-letter organizations. This survey found 47 percent of respondents experienced hazing before college, and in 25 percent of hazing cases, school staff were aware of the activity. 90% of students who experienced behavior the researchers defined as hazing did not consider themselves to have been hazed, and 95% of those who experienced what they themselves defined as hazing did not report it. The most common hazing-related activities reported in student groups included alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts.
Police forces, especially those with a paramilitary tradition, or sub-units of police forces such as tactical teams, as well as rescue services, such as lifeguards, also commonly have hazing rituals.
Hazing is also quite common in Europe in both educational and military contexts. It is known by a variety of terms in the different languages.
In some languages, terms with a religious theme are preferred, such as baptism or purgatory (for example Baptême in Belgian French, doop in Belgian Dutch, chrzciny in Polish) or variations on a theme of naïveté and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman, for example bizutage in European French, ontgroening ("de-greenhorn") in Dutch and Afrikaans (South Africa and Namibia), novatada in Spanish (from novato, meaning newcomer or rookie). In Latvian, the word iesvētības (literally "in-blessings") also stands for religious rites of passage, especially confirmation.
Hazing rituals are a common practice in Belgium in student clubs (fraternities and sororities, called studentenclubs) and student societies (called studentenverenigingen, studentenkringen or faculteitskringen). The latter is attached to the faculty of the university, while the first ones are privately operated. Hazing rituals in student societies have generally been safer than those in student clubs, precisely because they are to some extent regulated by universities.
In the Netherlands, the so-called 'traditional fraternities' have an introduction time which includes hazing rituals. The pledges go for a few days to a camp during which they undergo hazing rituals but are meanwhile introduced in the traditions of the fraternity. Often, pledges collect or perform chores to raise funds for charity. At the end of the hazing period, the inauguration of the new members take place.
The Portuguese term Praxe (from the Greek praxis) describes the whole of student traditions in universities or, more often, to the initiation rituals freshmen are subjected to in some Portuguese universities. The Praxe is meant to initiate the freshmen into the University institution and to encourage the loss of social inhibitions. Tradition, ritual, humor, joy and parody are some of the main ingredients of Praxe. Older students tend to produce funny situations and jokes with the freshmen; giving a warm welcome to them through initiation rituals. In most Portuguese higher education institutions, girls and boys have some gender-separated rituals to preserve dignity and respect.
The roots of Praxe go as far back as the fourteenth century, but it became most known in the sixteenth century, under the name of the "Investidas", in the University of Coimbra, the oldest of its kind in the country. From Coimbra, the tradition spread into Lisbon and Porto in the nineteenth century, when those cities gained access to higher education and students from those same cities transferred closer to home and brought the Praxe and its customs with them. The ritual burning of the ribbons of Queima das Fitas, the tradition of ripping and tearing of the newly graduates academic suit, the Festa das Latas with its Latada parade where the freshmen walk throughout the streets with cans on their feet, the Cortejo da Queima parade of Queima das Fitas, among many other rituals, festivals, and traditions, are examples of events which are associated with Praxe.
In the Italian military, the term used was nonnismo (from nonno, literally "grandfather"), a jargon term used for the soldiers who had already served for most of their draft period.
A similar equivalent term exists in the Russian military, where a hazing phenomenon known as dedovshchina exists referring to the senior corps of soldiers in their final year of conscription. Dedovshchina (lit. reign of grandfathers) is the informal practice of hazing and abuse of junior conscripts historically in the Soviet Armed Forces and today in the Russian armed forces, Internal Troops, and to a much lesser extent FSB, Border Guards, as well as the military forces of certain former Soviet Republics. It consists of brutalization by more senior conscripts, NCOs, and officers.
Dedovshchina encompasses a variety of subordinating and humiliating activities undertaken by the junior ranks, from doing the chores of the senior ranks, to violent and sometimes deadly physical and psychological abuse, not unlike an extremely vicious form of bullying or torture, including rape.
Ragging is the term used for hazing in the Indian subcontinent, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Ragging involves abuse, humiliation, or harassment of new entrants or junior students by the senior students.
Several highly reputed Indian colleges, especially medical ones have a history of ragging. Sometimes it is even considered to be a college tradition.
Ragging is widely prevalent in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka inception of ragging can be pleasant at first, hence the name 'Mal Samaya'. During this week or so, all newcomers are ordered to memorize the name and hometown of their peers as well as details of their immediate relatives. The objective of this exercise is said to be increasing the friendship among batch mates (locally termed as batch fit').
Controversies and efforts to curtail hazing
There have been numerous reports of problems related to hazing, ranging from damage to property, to injuries of various degrees of severity, including death, to criminal activities. As a result, there have been many efforts to curtail the practice, both on the instiutional and national levels.
Hazing incidents including "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females." Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered "horseplay" rather than rape. Between 1970 and 1999, 56 hazing deaths were reported.
Colleges and universities sometimes avoid publicizing hazing incidents for fear of damaging institutional reputations or incurring financial liability to victims. Also, hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers as hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence.
As fraternities and sororities are very diverse in their structures, regulations, governing entities, and memberships, and as hazing can take on many forms, the issue of hazing within these organizations is complex and multifaceted.
Generally, institutions of higher education will have their own definitions of hazing, though they may closely mirror definitions found in their respective state statutes. For example, the University of Arizona notes that hazing is a violation of University of Arizona policy and Arizona State law, and provides the following definition of hazing in its "University of Arizona Hazing Policy":
"Hazing" means any intentional, knowing or reckless act committed by a student, whether individually or in concert with other persons, against another student, and in which both of the following apply: (a) The act was committed in connection with an initiation into, an affiliation with or the maintenance of membership in any organization that is affiliated with the University.
(b) The act contributes to a substantial risk of potential physical injury, mental harm or degradation or causes physical injury, mental harm or personal degradation.
Many American educational institutions have developed anti-hazing programs, which encourage alternatives to hazing through the planning of purposeful activities, inform students of how to take action and avoid being a bystander, and provide clear consequences for those students and/or organizations who violate hazing policies. Additionally, hazing has become a central focus of programs designed to help Greek letter organizations become more value congruent through institutionalized standards and expectations 
Individual national Greek Letter Organizations have taken the initiative against activities related to hazing. For example, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity adopted an anti-hazing campaign to eradicate hazing practices in its individual chapters, providing numerous support resources to effectively combat the practice.
Attempts at preventing hazing have also targeted Greek letter organizations at the national level, even encouraging the closure of chapters that consistently partake in illegal and risky activities and pose threats to their local and university communities. Some have proposed the creation of a recognized pledge program in which national fraternity and sorority leaders participate, under the recognized supervision of university officials, as well as the yearly evaluation of fraternities and sororities to determine their eligibility for continued recognition and sponsorship.
However, such programs are difficult to implement since many Greek letter organizations, such as those governed by the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO), prohibit their pledges (also known as “interests” or “new members”) from revealing their association with their organization until they have been initiated. As a result, it is difficult for institutions to reach out to members in anti-hazing efforts and virtually impossible for these pledges or interests to reach out for help, especially if they wish to remain members, pledges, or interests of their organizations.
Various incidents in European countries have been reported, leading to attempts to curtail hazing activities, and in some cases to legal action against the perpetrators and the institutions.
In 2018 in Belgium, twenty-year-old student Sanda Dia died from multiple organ failure in the Reuzegom hazing ritual. The student society had attracted negative attention in the past, having been accused of animal cruelty during a hazing incident in 2009, for which the members involved were forced to pay a fine. KU Leuven drew up a hazing charter that was to be signed by student societies, fraternities and sororities. Signing the charter would have been a pledge to notify the city of the place and time of the hazing ceremony, and to abstain from violence, racism, extortion, bullying, sexual assault, discrimination, and the use of vertebrate animals. However a number of clubs refused to sign the new charter, arguing they did not want to lose their independence and rejected the rule that obliges them to report each hazing ahead.
In Portugal, some Praxe rituals have been accused of going against the principles set in the modern codes of the Praxe, with the older students taking the Praxe too far, such that the initiation rituals, jokes, and traditions are degraded into humiliation and violence. Such incidents have led to criticism against the Praxe, and the creation of student organizations against it.
In some cases criminal activities have been involved. In the 2000s, the Ministry of Higher Education, Mariano Gago, was called by students who wished to see justice applied against abusers, as the institutions themselves ignored their complaints. The first case of abuse in the Praxe involving court action against 6 perpetrators, happened in 2003 at an agricultural polytechnic institution from Santarém – the Escola Agrária de Santarém of the Instituto Politécnico de Santarém. Driven by a driver of the polytechnic, a van from the school was used in the process. In 2008, the students were convicted of the crimes of bodily harm and coercion.
In 2001 Diogo Macedo, a fourth year Architecture student of the Universidade Lusíada of Vila Nova de Famalicão, died from wounds resulting of massive trauma to his spine which the coroner ruled as having been dealt by a blunt object during a praxe event. Judicial proceedings found that the university was guilty of not supervising such events on campus grounds and award the parents of the deceased student 90,000 euros. Two suspects were arraigned as defendants but in 2004 the case would be closed due to insufficient evidence to proceed any further. 
Hazing incidents are rare in the Republic of Ireland, but are known at certain elite educational institutions. Hazing took place at Dublin City University's Accounting & Finance Society in 2018, where first-years standing for committee positions had to complete a variety of sexualized games. The club was suspended for a year as a result.
Hazing also occurs in sports societies. A report on Gaelic games county players noted that 6 percent of players reported were aware of forced binge drinking as a form of hazing. Dublin University Boat Club are known for hazing, with rituals including consumption of alcohol, stripping to ones underwear, caning with bamboo rods, push-ups, being shouted at, standing in the rain, being tied together by shoelaces and crawling a maze while being hit with pillows.
There have been reports that many young men are killed or commit suicide every year in Russia because of dedovshchina. The New York Times reported that in 2006 at least 292 Russian soldiers were killed by dedovshchina (although the Russian military only admits that 16 soldiers were directly murdered by acts of dedovshchina and claims that the rest committed suicide), as well as several thousand reports of abuse: "On Aug. 4, it was announced by the chief military prosecutor that there had been 3,500 reports of abuse already this year (2006), compared with 2,798 in 2005". The BBC meanwhile reported that in 2007, 341 soldiers committed suicide, a 15 percent reduction over the previous year.
Overall, the Russian state has done little to curtail dedovshchina. In 2003, on the specific issues of denial of food and poor nutrition, Deputy Minister of Defence V. Isakov denied the existence of such problems.
Ragging involves abuse, humiliation, or harassment of new entrants or junior students by the senior students. It often takes a malignant form wherein the newcomers may be subjected to psychological or physical torture.
Following Supreme Court orders, a National Anti-Ragging Helpline was launched by the Indian government. India's National Anti-Ragging Helpline started working in June 2009 to help students in distress due to ragging. It can be reached through email and a 24-hour toll-free number. Provision for anonymous complaints was considered of utmost important at the time of establishment of the helpline, since the victim after making the complaint remains with or close to the culprits, away from a fully secure environment.
The effectiveness of these measures are unknown; many accused of ragging freshmen are either let out with a warning or saved from legal action by political or caste lobbyists.
Legislation has been enacted in an attempt to enforce restrictions on ragging. For example, in 1999, the Government of Maharashtra enacted the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999 to prohibit ragging, based on the following definition:
“Ragging” means display of disorderly conduct, doing of any act which causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological harm or raise apprehension or fear or shame or embarrassment to a student in any educational institution and includes— (i) teasing, abusing, threatening or playing practical jokes on, or causing hurt to, such student ; or (ii) asking a student to do any act or perform something which such student will not, in the ordinary course, willingly, do.
The objective of the act is to create a framework to establish ragging as a criminal act, and lay out possible punishments under the law. Section 4 of the Act states:
Whoever directly or indirectly commits, participates in, abets or propagates ragging within or outside any educational institution shall, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to a fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.
Students who have been convicted under this act may also be dismissed from their educational institution, and not be allowed to enroll in any other educational institution for five years. In addition, the act lays out a procedure by which education institutions should handle accusations of ragging, with suspension of the accused student(s) and investigation of the allegations, and holds those institutions accountable if they fail to act in the manner described. Under Section 7 of the Act, the head of the institution who fails or neglects to properly investigate such allegations "shall be deemed to have abetted the offense of ragging and shall, on conviction, be punished as provided for in section 4." In other words, the school principal, chancellor, or other head faces the same punishment as a student who has been accused and convicted under this law.
It was applied in 2013, and resulted in the suspension of six students from Rajiv Gandhi Medical College in Mumbai. The most notable case in which it has been applied is the suicide of Payal Tadvi, in which three senior medical students were charged under this act as well as under the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the Information Technology Act, 2000.  They were charged with ragging consisting of harassment, humiliation, and discrimination which directly led to her suicide.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has passed UGC regulation on curbing ragging in higher educational institutions, beginning in 2009 with updates in 2013 and 2016. These regulation mandate every college responsibilities to curb ragging, including strict pre-emptive measures, like lodging freshers in a separate hostel, surprise raids at night by the anti-ragging squad, and submission of affidavits by all senior students and their parents taking oath not to indulge in ragging. In the 2016 amendment, the definition of ragging was updated to read:
Any act of physical or mental abuse (including bullying and exclusion) targeted at another student (fresher or otherwise) on the ground of colour, race, religion, caste, ethnicity, gender (including transgender), sexual orientation, appearance, nationality, regional origins, linguistic identity, place of birth, place of residence or economic background.
Ragging in Sri Lanka has a certain psychological basis: Many senior students state they do not wish to rag juniors but succumb to peer pressure. On the other hand, although some new students or freshers enjoyed being ragged by their seniors, other students despised it. Following their ragging they did not even wish to talk to the senior students who subjected them to "inhumane mental and physical torture." It was found that although ragging was intended to be a "social equalizer," in reality it "deepened the gap between the social classes."
Although ragging is a criminal offense in Sri Lanka under the Prohibition of Ragging and other Forms of Violence in Educational institutions Act, No. 20 of 1998 and carries a severe punishment, several variations of ragging can be observed in universities around the country. Through the years this practice has worsened to all types of violence including sexual violence, harassment and has also claimed the lives of several students. The University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka, have set up several pathways to report ragging incidents, including a special office, helpline and a mobile app where students can make a complaint anonymously or seek help.
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ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Aman, Reinhold (ed.). Maledicta 12. Maledicta Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0916500320
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- Nuwer, Hank (ed.). The Hazing Reader. Indiana University Press, 2004. ISBN 0253216540
- Sweet, Stephen. College and Society: An Introduction to the Sociological Imagination. Pearson, 2001. ISBN 978-0205305568
All links retrieved June 30, 2022.
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