Hazing on the rise: expert

Hank Nuwer urges orientation rituals do more harm than good

An American hazing expert says hazing is a serious problem both in the United States and Canada.

Hank Nuwer says since 1970, there has at least one death a year in the United States related to hazing and it doesn’t seen to be on a downturn.

“There were eight [deaths] in the fall of 2008,” states Nuwer, “so it’s not going away.”

He says most of these rituals are kept secret, which adds to their popularity as well as the risk.

“It’s part of the delight for undergraduates,” but he says the secrecy leads to a willingness of students to participate in activities they would never do on their own.

“You’re more likely to have cover-ups involving dishonesty about what you’re doing and maybe give the world the impression you’re a respected group that follows the rules.”

Based in Waldron, Indiana, Nuwer has studied hazing for more than 30 years. He has written four books on the subject as says he sees hazing as a growing trend.

“I think [hazing] is going to increase because of the athletic hazing in high school... You’re seeing it with younger students, and more severe.”

Hazing in Canada

While there have been no deaths associated to hazing in Canada, several serious incidences have been made public.

In 2005, McGill University cancelled its football season over allegations that one new team member was sodomized with a broom. And at St. Francis Xavier in fall 2008, eight students were disciplined after an orientation ceremony with new residence members. St. FX says this incident was not common.

However a former employee says things must have changed a lot since she has been there.

Jana Luker was the vice-president of student services from summer 2004 to spring 2007. She says when she worked at the university it “had a real hazing problem... I know this for a fact.”

“Things they were asked to do ranged from blindfolded, walking semi-clothed to drinking bizarre alcoholic combinations. So it was all over the place... it was done off campus but I felt the university had an obligation to deal with it because it’s associated with the different residences.”

Luker is currently the executive director of students services at McGill University.

'It would go a long way toward reducing these events'

Nuwer says changing these behaviours is not easy to do.

“Even when you speak to students you speak to them for one night, but you’re not there with their peers when it’s occurring.” But he says legal action might help reduce the number of deaths.

Nuwer says universities should take more responsibility in deterring the use of alcohol and he condemns schools that do not act promptly.

“Presidents of universities are generally gutless in terms of the whole alcohol issue and in terms of hazing. I think they go hand in hand. If universities would totally, absolutely crack down and take the financial hit for a couple of years, it would go a long way toward reducing these events.”

Nuwer is currently working on his fifth book about history hazing in the nineteenth century.


Feb. 11, 2009: Changed description of Luker's employment status to remove any suggestion of a connection between her views and her employment at St. FX

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It's quite amazing what people will submit themselves to to feel "part" of something and included. It all comes down to how much you are willing to demean yourself and experience pain to be part of the particular group. I'd speculate that in most cases the choice always existed to leave. It's such a strong human instinct to be included, but the choice in almost all cases exists to leave the situation and the resulting consequences come as they may.

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