Teenagers crave belonging and often join clubs, organizations, or sports teams to connect with peers and form social connections. In any organization, club or sport, however, there is a potential for hazing - and it doesn’t just happen on college campuses. Hazing is a real risk in middle and high schools, and school leaders must be informed about prevention strategies.
In our recent webinar, “Hazing Prevention Strategies for K-12 Leaders”, hazing expert Dr. Norman J. Pollard, retired Dean of Students at Alfred University in New York and Vector course author, provided insight about K-12 hazing and shared prevention strategies for school leaders.
First, it’s important to understand what hazing is, and what it is not. Hazing is different from bullying. With hazing, the victim is willingly participating because they want to be a member of the group. Hazing can involve sleep deprivation, wearing embarrassing attire, sexual assault, forced substance use, and more.
Alfred University defines hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” In most states, hazing is not only against district policies, it’s illegal, with 44 states having anti-hazing laws.
Understanding what hazing is and the policies and laws around hazing prevention can help support your district’s prevention efforts.
A common misconception is that hazing only happens on college campuses or in Greek organizations. However, it's much more prevalent in middle and high schools than commonly believed. An Alfred University hazing study focusing on high school students found:
Hazing can happen in any organization - athletic teams, service groups, performance groups (e.g. band, theater), religious and cultural organizations, youth groups, and others. Identifying hazing incidents can be challenging as victims rarely come forward. Some may not even recognize themselves as victims or may perceive dangerous or illegal activities as fun or exciting. In other cases, they may not report it because they may fear being ostracized if they speak up. Students want to belong, and the fear of rejection can be a powerful motivator to stay silent, especially for this age group.
Meanwhile, the negative consequences of hazing can be long-lasting and can shape a student’s identity at a critical time in their development. The Alfred University survey noted 71% of the students subjected to hazing reported negative consequences, such as getting into fights, being injured, fighting with parents, doing poorly in school, and more.
To address hazing in schools, it is important to change the culture by implementing effective prevention strategies. Here are some recommendations for K-12 schools:
1. Assessment: Survey students and parents, conduct focus groups with parents, coaches, and advisors to understand the extent of hazing.
2. Education: Provide hazing prevention education through annual training for parents, staff, and students. Discuss risks, consequences, and set clear expectations.
3. Detection: Train students and staff to recognize hazing, offer anonymous reporting options, monitor social media, and involve advisors and coaches as partners in prevention.
4. Accountability: Take decisive action against hazing incidents, publicly acknowledge them, review and update hazing policies, and critically evaluate initiation practices.
5. Alternatives: Offer alternative team-building activities that promote a sense of accomplishment and belonging, such as wilderness camps or ropes courses. By proactively addressing hazing, schools can create a safer and more positive learning environment for students.
Vector Solutions provides a range of online safety and well-being training courses for both students and staff members, including courses focused specifically on hazing awareness and prevention. The courses address topics including understanding hazing and its key components, why hazing occurs, how to identify, address and prevent hazing, and the health and legal risks of hazing.
For staff members:
For more information, request a preview or demo of our courses.