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Hazing and Psychology

The second driving force behind hazing that I will cover is the psychological causes. There have been several documented mental factors that explain why the act of hazing is committed. Norman Pollard, Alfred University’s Director of Counseling, points to offenders’ need to confirm their own success of enduring hazing. After conducting a series of studies, Pollard arrived at the conclusion that “the teammates who perpetrate the hazing are the ones who suffered it the year before, and they want to make it that much more dangerous, to validate their experience. It gets a little worse each year.”
These students often attempt to leave their own personal mark on the rituals by outdoing previous generations. This goal certainly sets the stage for a vicious cycle of ongoing and appalling hazing. Revenge is also cited by many researchers as a reason that victims turn into hazers themselves. After being wronged in the past, those who have been hazed feel the need to get even and indirectly take their misfortune out on new group members. Tragically, this desire for revenge has led to numerous deadly retaliations against the initial hazers as well.
Hazing expert Susan Lipkins outlines a number of other psychological factors that influence people to haze. She cites an identification with past authority figures who treated them forcefully, the need to express their own aggressive, sadistic or sexual desires to prove their masculinity and a general failure of empathy as reasons that people haze. The psychological phenomenon of groupthink also contributes to hazing. Groupthink occurs when “bad decisions are made by members of a cohesive group who temporarily suspend good judgment and moral reasoning because of the pressure to belong.”
This means that when placed in a group, individuals are willing to act in a way they would not on their own. Others haze because they believe it is a time-honored tradition that they have the right and duty to carry on. Seeing that many people in their position before them have hazed, some feel as though hazing is simply the right thing to do. Mindlessly making the decision to haze due to tradition without considering the reasoning behind it is common in the tradition-laden atmosphere of universities.
Upon deliberating the mental origins of hazing, we can produce more preventative approaches. For those who have been severely hazed, it is vital to get them appropriate counseling. Doing so has two major benefits. First of all, it will allow victims to properly cope with the post-traumatic stress hazing has been proven to cause. Second, this will reduce the rage that commonly turns the victim into an aggressor. Therefore, the cycle of hazing will be broken by reducing the available stream of potential offenders. Without this counseling strategy in place, victims are the ones who continue to carry on the practice. Moreover, psychologists themselves need to become more educated on recognizing and handling the effects of hazing so that they can give potential hazers adequate treatment. With proper knowledge, psychologists will be able to identify candidates at risk of becoming hazers and work with them to overcome such problems before they are embodied through hazing. Counseling of those who have been hazed and of those who display the emotional issues apparent in hazers is the first approach to taking on the psychological causes of hazing.
In order to combat the psychological thrusts of groupthink that leads offenders to haze, it is critical to get bystanders involved with bringing hazing to an end as well. The very group nature of hazing means there are plenty of bystanders watching. These bystanders are not involved with the act, but allow it to happen. It is admittedly too optimistic to hope these individuals will stop the actions they witness, but they can prevent future hazing by informing a school authority.
Getting bystanders to turn in offenders is difficult for a number of reasons. First, they do not want to break the trust of their friends in the group or lose their valuable position within the group. Additionally, they themselves ordinarily suffer from the punishment for revealing hazing – whether it is the cancelation of a team’s season, the closing of a fraternity, or the suspension of their group. Therefore, schools should promote such notifications by rewarding the bystander who takes such a stand against hazing. While another option would be punishing bystanders who do not break the code of secrecy, this could cause an issue over Fifth Amendment rights. It should be the foremost ambition of universities to support courageous bystanders who expose hazing and attempt to avoid adversely affecting them with the punishments handed out.
Keeping the anonymity of the whistleblower a priority is also critical to helping he or she avoid any chastisement they might receive from the group otherwise. To increase the efficiency of allowing students to alert supervisors about hazing without facing repercussions from their group, anonymous tip-lines, suggestions boxes, e-mail addresses or websites should be utilized. This would give students a safe place to relay information. One recent study showed that 36 percent of students who would have otherwise reported hazing, did not merely because they did not know whom they could notify. Similar research found that 88 percent of students believe it is important to empower bystanders and 70 percent thought there should be an anonymous way to disclose hazing information.
The last psychological issue is the desire to continue traditions. To deal with the students’ psychological desire to continue the tradition of hazing, colleges should reconsider the value of all school group traditions. Many universities have acquired numerous traditions throughout their histories. While many of these traditions boost school pride, some (such as hazing) do nothing but create a negative environment. It is quite simply fallacious to continue carrying out a practice that is destructive only because it is a tradition. Many of the finest preventative strategies for hazing come from the analysis of its psychological causes.

-Rocco Zambito

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