Nearly half the high school students responding to a national survey said they had been subjected to activities that fit a broad definition of hazing in order to become members of sports teams, cheerleading squads, or other groups. What’s more, three-fourths of those who were hazed reported having experienced negative consequences—such as suffering injuries or doing poorly on schoolwork—as a result.

The study, called “Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey,” was conducted by researchers from New York’s Alfred University. The researchers mailed a two-page survey to a random sampling of 20,000 high school students across the country in April and received 1,541 responses. The results were released Aug. 28.

“High school hazing is pervasive,” Nadine C. Hoover, principal investigator for the study, told Education Week. “Hazing is going beyond being an initiation rite. It is becoming a way of life.”

The study shows that 48 percent of students were subjected to hazing under the definition used by researchers, which was “any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate.”

“Forty-three percent of them reported being subjected to humiliating activities, 23 percent were involved in substance abuse, and 29 percent of them told us they performed potentially illegal acts as part of their initiation,” Hoover said in a press release.

Even more alarming to the researchers: Most students “appear incapable of distinguishing what hazing is,” Hoover said. Only 14 percent said they thought they had been hazed, while their responses to questions about specific activities indicated that 48 percent had been hazed using the researchers’ definition.

Among the categories of high school groups, fraternities and sororities topped the list for their rate of hazing, at 76 percent; next were peer groups or gangs, at 73 percent; sports teams, 35 percent; cheerleading squads, 34 percent; vocational groups, 27 percent; church groups, 24 percent; music, art, and theater groups, 22 percent; and political or social action groups, 21 percent.

Since more students participate in sports teams than other activities, however, the greatest number of respondents were hazed for athletics.

Initiation rites aren’t necessarily bad, the researchers said. “When initiation rites are done appropriately, they meet teen-agers’ needs for a sense of belonging, and the group’s needs for members to understand the history and culture of the group,” according to the report. But when those rites involve humiliating or dangerous activities, they can have severe and lasting effects.

The Alfred University researchers offer a list of recommendations for dealing with hazing in schools (see sidebar, left). Some school systems already have adopted anti-hazing measures in an effort to stem what has become a disturbing trend.

In April, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association sent out a sample policy about hazing to some 350 members statewide. Sharon Fissel, the director of policy services for the PSBA, suggests that districts look at the policy as a “proactive measure.”

“I believe hazing has been around for quite a long time,” Fissel said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it is not acknowledged, but people know it’s there and it’s not prohibited.”

In Uniontown, Pa., Superintendent Darrell Uphold said an anti-hazing proposal was adopted at a school board meeting on Sept. 18.

“What often happens is kids go away to band camp or football camp and it’s sort of a rite of passage for kids to go through,” Uphold told the Associated Press (AP). But “in some cases, we have read about some people having serious problems.”

Some claims of hazing are disturbing.

In August, a 16-year-old football player from suburban Pittsburgh said teammates loaded socks with an alarm clock and soap and beat him in a dormitory during a summer football camp.

“When I woke up, they were still hitting me with stuff,” said Dan Reda, a junior at Moon High School, just west of Pittsburgh.

Reda said he went to see a trainer staying on the same floor as the team at California University after the incident to report blurred vision and a headache. Reda fell over when he stood to walk.

The Trumbull, Conn., board of education has approved a new policy in an effort to hold students’ parents more responsible for hazing.

The policy, approved unanimously by the board in August, requires parents to sign a form saying they understand rules against hazing before their children participate in any school programs—not just sports.

The requirement stems from the arrests of eight Trumbull High School wrestlers in February on charges they hogtied, beat, and sodomized a 15-year-old teammate with a plastic knife in hazing rituals. The victim, who has not been identified publicly, is a special education student who suffers from attention deficit disorder and a hyperactivity condition.

Three of the wrestlers, charged as adults, were granted accelerated rehabilitation, a special form of probation designed to eventually clear their records.

The cases of five wrestlers were resolved in juvenile court. Three of them served a week in the juvenile detention center.

Seven of the accused wrestlers were suspended for 10 days and then expelled from school, and an eighth team member was suspended for two days.

“Parents are going to have to indicate that they are fully cognizant of this policy if they want their child to participate in any school activities,” board member Arthur Kaiser told AP. “No one can plead ignorance. All participants in the school are covered by [the new policy].” n

Links:

Alfred University, Saxon Drive, Alfred, NY 1480; phone (800) 541-9229, web http://www.alfred.edu.

Pennsylvania School Boards Association, 774 Limekiln Road, New Cumberland, PA 17070; phone (717) 774-2331, web http://www.psba.org.

“Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey”: http://www.alfred.edu/news/html/hazing_study.html