There’s Nothing Hazy About Hazing

“Wow, hazing is cool,” said no one ever

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Ten fraternity members/alumni at Louisiana State University have been arrested after a hazing incident led to the death of an 18-year-old freshman in September. This is just another case added to the ever-growing series of student deaths by hazing rituals.

This incident, like so many others, involved initiation into a club, in this case the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The leading groups responsible for hazing incidents are varsity athletics, fraternities, sororities, and club sports. These hazing incidents almost always involve alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, and sexual acts.

In the Louisiana State University case, Maxwell Gruver was taken to the hospital by two fellow students where he was declared dead. His blood alcohol content was .496, which is six times more than the legal limit for driving, and vomit had aspirated into his lungs.

Rewind to earlier that night. Gruver was part of an initiation game called “Bible Study,” a game in which new members have to answer questions correctly under the threat of being forced to drink for incorrect responses. In uncomfortable conditions in the fraternity’s basement, a dark space with loud music and strobe lights, the new members were forced to line up with their toes and nose against a wall, or do wall sits while members walked across their knees. Reportedly, Gruver kept repeatedly messing up reciting the Greek alphabet and was forced to drink an immense amount of alcohol as punishment. During this incident, members admitted that Gruver was targeted more aggressively than the others, according to The New York Times and CNN.

Gruver’s death resulted in a temporary closing of all Greek life at LSU; however, Greek life has since been able to resume its activities but with new rules implemented. However, details on these “new rules” are hard to find, besides the fact that LSU has acquired a task force “to review policies governing fraternities and sororities with an eye on eliminating dangerous behavior,” according to The Advocate.

This is not an isolated incident. Countless more cases have developed, more and more compiling each month. A recent study by Stop Hazing shows that more than half of students who participate in an organization or team in college experience some form of hazing.

Not only does hazing endanger members of the club, it also creates an atmosphere that exacerbates other issues that surround these kind of groups, such as bullying and sexual assault. In this, the problem of hazing multiplies. Hazing is linked to so many other issues, and combating it can help deplete the issues surrounding clubs and organizations. Hazing is just one part of the embedded aggression and unsympathetic climate that these kinds of clubs connote.

The main defense of “hazing” these organizations claim is that it is tradition, a show of strength, or it’s not hazing if the members agree to it. Agreeing to hazing still doesn’t justify it, especially when members are forced, pressured, coerced, or too intoxicated to refuse. Oftentimes you’ll hear hazing said to be just members “having fun and joking around,” or that it “builds unity.” Torturing someone does not enforce team bonding; it enforces systems of violence and power trips and can lead to seriously dangerous and illegal situations. A late-night insomnia cookie run, a movie night, or even a good old game of Pictionary are all examples of ways to “build unity.”

Hazing is just one part of the embedded aggression and unsympathetic climate that connotes these kinds of clubs.

Is it here on our campus? Of course, and just because we don’t hear about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The most recent case of hazing at the University of Minnesota was at Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In 2013 members were left in isolated locations and forced to drink entire kegs of beer within a time limit. More hazing incidents were reported during a few of SAE’s formal events in 2014 and 2015, one incident resulting in the hospitalization of a student.

Hazing happens more often than we think. Fewer than 50 percent of hazing incidents are reported. This is because students are afraid of what will happen to them if the fraternity or club finds out they reported the incident. Furthermore, many students feel there is no one to tell—that if they report it to the university or police, nothing will happen.

Ultimately, the university has the most power over how hazing is dealt with. Currently, 44 states have laws against hazing—Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming are the six without. Yet, even when state hazing laws aren’t enforced, universities can have their own policies. Universities can and should be the biggest protector of student welfare. It should be the university’s number one priority to keep students safe in university-affiliated groups. Tighter policies on hazing are ways to ensure that if cases appear, the students involved are reprimanded, and hopefully will help prevent hazing overall.

As students, the easiest way to help prevent hazing is reporting it if you see it happening. About 50 percent of hazing incidents are captured on photos or videos, and posted online, such as Snapchat and Instagram. The University of Minnesota has outlets for reporting such events, or you can contact the police with your information. Despite what many students believe, the university can intervene and help stop the hazing incidents. Reporting hazing is not “snitching,” it’s keeping campus safe and possibly saving the life of fellow students.

Hazing culture also perpetuates other issues that are less visible, like sexual assault, bullying, and abuse. It’s easy to fall into the fallacy of just looking at hazing as an isolated issue, but in truth it is the cause and effect of many other issues that surround clubs and organizations like these. Looking at the larger picture of hazing, its consequences extend far; it is an enforcer of rape culture, bullying, physical and mental abuse, and many others issues that severely affect campus climate.

Click here for more information on how to report a hazing incident to the University.