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College Student Hazing Experiences, Attitudes, and Perceptions: Implications for Prevention

Health, Safety, and Well-being Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Fraternity and Sorority
April 19, 2019 Elizabeth Allan David Kerschner Jessica M. Payne

The following is an excerpt from "College Student Hazing Experiences, Attitudes, and Perceptions: Implications for Prevention"  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE IN VOLUME 56, ISSUE 1 OF THE JOURNAL OF STUDENT AFFAIRS RESEARCH AND PRACTICE.

This investigation reports findings from survey data collected from 5,880 students enrolled at seven U.S. research universities. Building on previous studies, this investigation found that hazing occurred across a range of student groups and included high-risk drinking, social isolation, personal servitude, and humiliation. Although students tended to have pro-social attitudes and did not believe hazing was beneficial to their organizations, some reported positive outcomes. Research-informed recommendations for campus hazing prevention are provided.

Intimidating, harassing, and violent behavior among college students can threaten the health and safety of campus community members and impede the missions of postsecondary institutions. Hazing, a form of interpersonal violence, is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group (such as a student club, organization, or team) that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers regardless of a person’s willingness to participate” (Hoover & Pollard, 1999). Hazing is at odds with educational goals as it can harm students and contribute to abusive campus climates, negative publicity, and student attrition (Allan, 2016; Allan & Madden, 2012). From this perspective, hazing in any one organization or team, among any group of individuals, is an issue with campus-wide implications that go beyond the specific organizations and/or individuals involved.

For an issue with significance for educational institutions, scholarly focus on hazing has been relatively lean. Two national studies have laid a foundation for documenting the nature and extent of hazing in U.S. postsecondary institutions, including Hoover and Pollard (1999), who examined hazing among student-athletes at NCAA institutions, concluding that 79% participated in behaviors that met the definition of hazing. In that study, two-thirds of student-athletes experienced hazing that was abusive or humiliating, half experienced hazing with high-risk drinking, and one-fifth experienced hazing activities that were dangerous, unacceptable, and potentially illegal such as being kidnapped, harassing others, or being forced to destroy property (Hoover & Pollard, 1999). Allan and Madden (2008), who surveyed more than 11,000 students on 53 college campuses throughout the United States, reported that 55% of those involved in campus organizations had experienced behavior meeting the definition of hazing. That study also found that student hazing occurred across a broad range of campus groups with students involved in varsity athletics (74%), fraternities and sororities (73%), club sports (64%), performing arts organizations (56%), and service organizations (50%) most frequently experiencing hazing.

Building on this foundation, the investigation presented here explores the nature and extent of hazing, as well as student attitudes and beliefs about hazing, at universities participating in the first cohort of the Hazing Prevention Consortium (HPC). The HPC is a multiyear research-to-practice initiative designed to support comprehensive hazing prevention and contribute to an evidence base for prevention. Researchers collaborated with campus professionals to administer an online survey designed to provide insights about students and organizations most at risk for hazing, the frequency of hazing behaviors, and student perceptions of, and attitudes toward, hazing at each university.

While previous studies have examined the nature and extent of hazing among U.S. college students (e.g., Allan & Madden, 2008), this study adds new insights by exploring hazing at a subset of universities that made a substantial commitment to hazing prevention. The addition of social norms data, aggregated across multiple institutions, extends a growing knowledge base. In sum, this study breaks new ground in that while previous national studies collected data on the nature and extent of hazing, this investigation did so with the express and multi-pronged purpose of laying evidentiary groundwork for improved campus understanding of the problem of hazing and by extension, the development of data-driven hazing prevention strategies. For instance, analyzing data by gender and race provide demographic clues for which students may be at more risk of particular types of hazing and gathering data on student perceptions of hazing can inform social norms prevention campaigns. Despite the nascent character of the field of hazing scholarship, this investigation and the larger initiative of which it is a part mark a turning point, as the field shifts toward increased focus on the use of research to inform prevention practice.

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