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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Vigilance key to changing culture of hazing, experts say

ORLANDO, Fla. — The beating death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion is forcing school administrators to take a hard look at how they deal with the culture of hazing, especially among the famed Marching 100 band.

Though FAMU already has a firm policy against the practice — band members are forced to sign an anti-hazing pledge, scores have been suspended through the years and others have been arrested recently — it has become clear that a lot more must be done to root it out.

In the weeks since Champion’s death, the FAMU board of trustees has moved to create an anti-hazing committee. One place it might turn for ideas: other universities that confronted similar tragedies, then worked hard to change the culture at their schools.

Sadly, Champion’s death is no isolated incident.

Hank Nuwer, an Indiana-based academic and author who focuses on hazing education and prevention, maintains a database showing that nine others have died in hazing-related incidents since 2008. Alcohol poisoning is the leading cause of death, but other recent deaths have been linked to water intoxication, drowning, even suicide.

It’s not enough to have laws against hazing. The practice is illegal in Florida and 43 other states but persists.

“We need to look at the campus culture,” said Elizabeth Allan, a professor at the University of Maine who led a national study on student hazing.

The results of that 2008 study: 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and other extracurricular organizations are hazed.

That’s why a university’s approach must be comprehensive, Allan and other experts say. “We can’t just look at one or two groups that might have a problem with hazing.”

Susan Lipkins, a psychologist and author who has written extensively on the subject, says “a total approach — not just a one-day workshop” — is needed to stamp out hazing. “You need an ongoing, integrated system that is going to train everybody on campus.”

A successful effort, she said, also requires vigilance — “year after year and season after season, during fall and spring rush, each sports season for men’s and women’s teams.”

Lipkins cited Cornell University as an institution that has stepped up anti-hazing efforts after the February 2011 death of a pledge whose would-be fraternity brothers made him drink extreme amounts of alcohol.

The university’s president has abolished the traditional pledging process for Greek organizations, and a campuswide group is crafting an alternative that will go into effect in the next academic year, said Travis Apgar, associate dean of students.

“They have led the way, as far as I’m concerned, with a top-down approach where they trained everybody,” Lipkins said, referring to students and all campus personnel.

On many campuses, Lipkins said, “you’ll see kids who are strangely dressed or sleep-deprived. … Students know, teachers know, custodians know (it’s hazing), but they don’t report it.”

Making anti-hazing efforts more challenging is the fact that many students enter college accustomed to the practice. Allan’s study found 47 percent had undergone hazing in high school. Among other findings: Students who have been hazed rarely report it, and 90 percent who have undergone the ritual don’t consider themselves to have been hazed.

A pair of hazing-related fatalities in recent years spurred a change in approach at California State University at Chico.

The school adopted a rigorous education program and takes a harder line when hazing comes to light. In a recent incident, a fraternity found to be hazing was barred from campus, and its house was sold and turned into apartments.

“We let (students) know exactly what hazing is, what our history is and that we’re not going to repeat it,” said Connie Huyck, the university’s coordinator of student organizations and leadership programs, and a former longtime Greek adviser.

“It’s not a one and done,” Huyck said. “It’s a daily thing that we’re working on with the students.”

Huyck, in a point echoed by others in the field, emphasized the importance of addressing even seemingly harmless acts of initiation, such as sending pledges on errands.

“You’ve got to nip that in the bud,” she said. “It breeds that contempt, and people up the ante, and it just snowballs. That’s why you have to stop it as soon as it’s there.”

“We’re not perfect, but we’re doing so much more good than we were doing before,” Huyck said of the school’s continuing efforts.

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