In recent years, a grand jury filed criminal charges against 8 students relating to the death of a 19-year-old sophomore who died from injuries sustained during an alcohol-fueled hazing incident. Purportedly, the student became drunk during a "pledge night" and was rendered unconscious after falling down a flight of stairs. The indicted students failed to call for an ambulance until roughly 12 hours later, and the unconscious student later died from his injuries.
Unfortunately, stories like this are becoming far too familiar.
Back in 2015, 22 students at another university were convicted of misdemeanors relating to the death of a student who drank so much during an initiation "that it caused his heart to stop."
The year before that, two students and a fraternity president at yet another school were charged in relation to the hazing death of a student who was encouraged to drink an estimated 37 one-ounce shots of hard liquor.
Of course, hazing extends beyond Greek organizations and can be found in social and community groups across the campus from athletic organizations to drama clubs to honor societies. And in many of these cases, alcohol -- or more specifically the abuse of alcohol -- was a key factor in hazing activities, particularly when things became blatantly abusive or dangerous.
For the hazer, excessive alcohol use can lower their anxiety or guilt about inflicting abuse or injury to new members. In addition, it can provide a sense of "insurance" against culpability, offering a ready defense -- "We were drunk and things just got out of hand."
Conversely, for the person being hazed, the numbing effects of alcohol might reduce their inhibitions to avoid risky and potentially dangerous situations. And the "ritualized" drinking behavior commonly a part of hazing routinely involves ingesting large volumes of alcohol in a short period of time, which can result in numerous health and safety risks.
Being intoxicated can also further skew the power dynamic between the potential/new member and the hazer, encouraging increased victimization.
Of the tragedies mentioned above, none of these events were an isolated incident but instead were the all-too-inevitable result of increasingly risky and abusive behavior. To prevent a similar tragedy from occurring at your school, become more proactive in tracking, identifying, and preventing incidents of hazing on your campus. If student organizations are dissuaded from engaging in moderately abusive practices long before anyone is even injured, a hazing-related death is far less likely.
As part of these efforts, make it possible for students to anonymously report hazing incidents or organization-sponsored alcohol abuse. When students can raise these concerns without fear of social reprisal, your campus will be able to react more quickly to problematic behaviors.
New students are routinely the most victimized population when it comes to hazing. Incorporate anti-hazing and alcohol abuse education into your student orientation programs. In addition, consider further training for any students, faculty, and staff involved in leading or administrating student social, community, or athletics groups. When the students that run these groups are aware of not only the dangers but potential consequences of hazing, they are much less likely to permit this abusive behavior in their organization.
Rethink how organizations and clubs associated with your campus oversee "pledging" or the admission of new members. By creating a trial period during which students try to earn their place in the group, these organizations create a tempting opportunity for abuse.
With that fact in mind, long-standing fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon ended its pledge process back in 2014, opting for a more straightforward recruiting and membership process.
By coordinating with student organizations, whether on or off campus, your school can help discourage hazing rituals and better protect your students. At the same time, when vulnerable students are emboldened with the confidence and tools to stand up for themselves and are aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse, they are less likely to participate or be complicit in dangerous behaviors.