Hazing is a critical issue at all residential colleges and universities nationwide.  At Princeton, we want to do all we can to clarify our policies and educate students about the pernicious nature of hazing and its consequences.

In recent years, tragedies stemming from hazing activities at many institutions have made headlines.[1] Hazing has also been connected with other dangerous and anti-social activities. Social science research suggests that hazing is enabled by the same social power dynamics that lead to and promote sexual misconduct and high-risk consumption of alcohol, and that requiring, encouraging, or intimidating new or prospective members to drink or perform sexual acts are two of the most frequent hazing activities among college students.[2] And yet, students at many universities attest that hazing often goes unrecognized as such.

Hazing  may be influenced by the following perceptions and misperceptions that are unique to college campuses:                                                             

Competition.  Many student organizations require auditions or engage in other recruitment processes. Because there are so many talented individuals on campus, often spots in performance, athletic, or social groups are limited. This high stakes sense of competition may lead to an atmosphere where more intense recruitment or initiation practices that can cross the line into hazing occur.

“Tradition.” Student groups may have many long-standing activities that are part of their organizations' history.  While many activities may be fun and harmless, others may constitute hazing.  Students may tend to justify certain initiation activities as “tradition.”  A misguided emphasis on "tradition" can put new or prospective members of a group at a higher risk of hazing.

Pressure to “consent.” Despite the fact that “consent” is not a defense to hazing, some students will acquiesce to activities that are potentially daring, embarrassing, or uncomfortable rather than risk their reputation by objecting. Some students may also be unwilling to be perceived as victims, arguing “I went along with it willingly” or “I wanted to do it” in order to maintain an illusion of control over the situation.

Pressure to “measure up.”  Misperceptions about “tradition”  may give rise to unhelpful fictional comparisons between a current student and older students or alumni/ae. Students may hear their peers justify participation in hazing by saying: “If  ____ could handle it, I can handle it too,” or “If ____ did it, it can’t be that bad.” 

Timing.  Certain times of the year  correspond with students’ acceptance to clubs, teams, or other organizations.  At the start of each semester, for example, when students are pursuing new extra-curricular or social opportunities, events may be characterized by high social pressure and students may see an uptick in hazing activities at these times of the year.

Lack of awareness.  Princeton students may mistakenly believe that because hazing has such a strong association nationwide with Greek life, hazing is not an issue at Princeton, because these organizations do not enjoy recognition here, nor are freshmen permitted to affiliate with them. Hazing can occur in any type of student organization, recognized or not, or on any team. Students who experience hazing here may use different terminology to explain these activities, or may excuse or explain away experiences that don’t fit neatly into how they conceptualize hazing.  For the same reasons, even well-intentioned leaders of teams, clubs, and student organizations may be unaware that their new member program or “initiations” activities are unacceptable.


[1] E.g.: Michael Winerip, “When a Hazing Goes Very Wrong,” The New York Times, April 12, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/education/edlife/a-hazing-at-cornell.html retrieved February 1, 2016; Richard Perez-Pena, “Dartmouth Cites Student Misconduct in its Ban on Liquor,” The New York Times, January 29, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/us/in-response-to-student-misconduct-dartmouth-to-ban-hard-liquor-at-parties.html retrieved February 1, 2016.

[2] Elizabeth Allen and Mary Madden, Hazing in View: College Students at Risk. Rep. N.p.: Stop Hazing Organization, 2008. Print.

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