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What is Hazing?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hazing is a form of initiation ceremony which is used to induct newcomers into an organization such as a private school, sports team, fraternity, or sorority. There are a number of different forms, from relatively mild ritual forms to severe and sometimes violent ceremonies. Due to concerns about the safety of hazing, many organizations have specifically banned this practice, although bans are very irregularly enforced.

The idea behind this practice is that it welcomes newcomers by subjecting them to a series of trials which promote a bond between them. After the hazing is over, the newcomers also have something in common with older members of the organization, because they all experienced it as part of a rite of passage. The practice also tests the mettle of new members, making them feel like they have earned a place in the organization.

A wide variety of techniques are used in hazing. Many rituals involve humiliation, embarrassment, abuse, and harassment. Inductees may be subjected to a single “hell night” in which they go through a series of rituals, or a “hell week,” a prolonged process in which they must be constantly ready for new orders from older members of the organization. For example, new members of a sports team might be obliged to carry pagers so that they can be summoned to hazing events, or new fraternity pledges might be required to salute all current fraternity members whenever they encounter them during hell week, in addition to participating in events in the evening.

Some organizations pass down venerable traditions, while others develop their own. The potential dangers of hazing can be both physical and psychological. In sororities, for example, a common practice involves ordering new pledges to strip to their underwear so that they can be judged by older sorority members, which may be humiliating or dangerous for women who are struggling with body image issues. Challenges in which people are dared to drink large amounts of alcohol or to engage in dangerous physical stunts can also be very risky, and in some cases, deadly.

The history of hazing is ancient, with documented cases dating to at least the 1600s. This may explain why no tolerance policies are often unsuccessful, because such policies only work when people refuse to engage in hazing ceremonies, and report attempted hazing to officials. New inductees are often afraid or reluctant to discuss or report these activities, making it difficult for officials to enforce bans.

People who do take the initiative to report or refuse hazing may find themselves ostracized. For newcomers who are trying to fit into an organization, the potential for rejection from the group is sometimes viewed as far more unpleasant. Some institutions have established anonymous tip lines to encourage people to report hazing confidentially. Dangerous practices should always be reported, as human life is far more important than fitting in.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon257705 — On Mar 28, 2012

Yeah, hazing is terrible and it's our job to end hazing once and for all! I go against hazing to the first degree.

By momothree — On Jan 20, 2011

Hazing in the military has also become a problem. It has always been considered classified so much of the public had never heard of it. It has just been in the past few years that some of the military personnel that had to go through hazing came forward. When some of the stories surfaced, the public was outraged.

There were videos released of marine hazing which consisted of the soldiers physically being beaten until they could no longer move. If they talked about it, it would get worse. The military now has very strict policies and procedures regarding hazing.

There are currently 35 states that have specific laws regarding hazing. It is a felony charge.

By googie98 — On Jan 17, 2011

The act of hazing has caused a lot of controversy in the past few years, as many people have been seriously injured and even died in the process. College hazing is a huge deal and there are now laws against it.

I read an article published in Time Magazine regarding hazing. It said that over 250,000 students experienced some type of hazing in order to join a college athletic team. 5% of all college students admitted to being hazed. More than 20% of female NCAA athletes were subjected to alcohol related hazing. Many of them were physically hazed and had to go through things such as having their heads shaved, being branded, being tattooed, beaten, or thrown in water.

Hazing, whether it be for a fraternity, sorority, athletic team, or any other group, may be some kind of tradition but it has become a very serious issue now.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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