Hazing in View: College Students at Risk (page 3 of 5)


The initial findings of the study are presented in the following pages.  For these findings, the emphasis was a descriptive analysis of the survey data and was supplemented by interview data.

Interpreting Survey Data
As previously described, the survey was designed for on-line administration and therefore involved skip patterns to tailor the questions for each respondent.  As a result, while we report the total numbers of completed surveys as 11,482, the actual number of responses to each question may differ depending on those responding to a particular question and the extent to which they were involved in student organizations or teams on campus. 

Of the 11,482 student respondents to the survey, 37% reported they were not involved in any activity on their campus; 48% reported on their membership experiences for one team or organization; and 15% reported on their membership experiences for two teams or organizations.

PLEASE NOTE:  Where findings refer to the number of membership experiences (in contrast to the number of individual students) this will be noted.  For example, if a student responded to the list of questions first as an athlete, and then as a member of an honor society, we typically report on these as two distinct membership experiences.  When reviewing the data, it is also important to understand that students had the right to skip questions they did not wish to answer.  Therefore, the total number of responses to questions varies. 

More than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing. 

For this research, we used the following standard definition of hazing:

“Hazing is 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.”

When given a list of behaviors that meet this definition, 55% of respondents report they have experienced at least one of these in relation to their involvement in a campus club, team, or student organization.  More specifically, 61% of male respondents and 52% of female respondents who are involved with a student organization or team have experienced a behavior that meets the definition of hazing.

Hazing occurs across a range of student groups.
As we learned during the interviews, students often associate hazing with
Greek-letter organizations explaining that hazing is “. . . things I have seen on TV with fraternities and sororities and paddling and stuff.”  Yet survey responses indicate that students who were members of a range of different types of campus groups and teams reported experiencing hazing behaviors. 

While data confirm that hazing is occurring in Greek-letter organizations, the research also reveals the presence of hazing in other student groups including varsity athletics, club sports, intramural teams, military groups, recreation clubs, service fraternities and sororities, performing arts organizations (e.g., marching bands and theater groups), honor societies, academic clubs, and other groups students elected to identify separately.

Research shows, students affiliated with varsity athletics and social fraternities and sororities are most likely to experience hazing.   Seven out of 10 students report they experienced at least one hazing behavior to join or maintain membership on a team or in a social Greek-letter organization.  Six out of 10 students affiliated with a club sport; and five of 10 affiliated with performing arts groups, service Greek-letter organizations, and intramural teams report they have experienced at least one hazing behavior in order to join or maintain their membership in the group. 

Following these were recreation clubs or interest groups (42%), academic clubs (28%), honor societies (20%) and those who indicated they belonged to other organizations (these included a range of groups, but primarily fell into the following categories:  religious clubs and organizations, student government, and culturally-based organizations that were not Greek-letter groups) (30%). 

Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep- deprivation, and sex acts are hazing practices common across student groups.
While our first finding speaks to the extent of hazing among various student groups/teams, the research also examined the nature of hazing among students.  Overall, it appears college students are participating in unacceptable, high-risk, and potentially illegal behaviors in order to belong to a student group or team.

 According to the data, alcohol plays a major role in hazing behaviors.  A leading hazing behavior across nearly all student organizations and teams is participation in drinking games. More than half of students’ experiences with varsity athletic teams and social fraternities and sororities include drinking games.  However, interview data indicate the extent of alcohol-related hazing differs for students who are affiliated with culturally-based fraternal groups.  Data will be further analyzed to examine this difference in subsequent reports. 

Knowledge of hazing extends beyond the student groups engaging in the behavior. 

Secrecy and silence are common characterizations of the dynamics of hazing.  However, analysis of the data reveals there are a number of public aspects to hazing including the location of hazing activities, posting photos of these activities on public web spaces, and knowledge of hazing among coaches, advisors, alumni, family, and friends. For instance, when students (who reported experiencing hazing behavior) were asked where the behaviors occurred, one in four said it had occurred in a public space on campus and nearly half indicated the hazing had occurred during the day. 

Who knows about campus hazing?
Aside from the students involved in the groups/teams where hazing occurs, who else may have knowledge of hazing?  According to the survey responses, coaches, advisors, friends, and family have knowledge of hazing in some cases.  The specific findings are as follows:

  • In 25% of hazing experiences, students believed coaches and/or advisors were aware of the activities.
  • In 25% of hazing experiences, students reported that alumni were present.
  • Students are most inclined to talk with peers (48%, 41%) or family (26%) about their hazing experiences.

Of the student membership experiences (team or organization) where one or more hazing behaviors occurred, students were most likely to have talked with a friend and another member of the team or organization.  Students were least likely to talk with clergy or a counselor.

Hazing on Display

  • In more than half of hazing experiences, students reported that photos of the activities were posted on public Web spaces.

Where a student reported at least one hazing behavior in connection to her/his membership in a group, 53% say a member of their team or organization posted photos of the hazing activity on a public web space like Facebook or MySpace.  Also, another 42% report posting the hazing photos themselves. During the interviews, students, staff, and administrators described experiences where they learned about campus hazing behaviors as a result of photos circulating on the Internet. 

Finding 5:
More students perceive positive rather than negative outcomes of hazing.
The survey provided a list of potential results of participation in hazing behaviors and asked students to indicate if they had experienced any of these.  The list included 4 positive and 16 negative outcomes of hazing.  The positive results of hazing were more often cited by students than the negative results.
For example, 31% of the time students said they felt like more a part of the group while they felt stressed 11% of the time. 

During interviews, numerous students justified hazing practices based on their perception that it promotes bond or group unity.  However, the survey results indicate that the majority (two-thirds) of respondents do not cite this as an outcome of their hazing experiences.  Similarly, hazing is often rationalized by saying it promotes “a sense of accomplishment.”  However, the data reveal that more the three-fourths of the respondents do not identify “sense of accomplishment” as an outcome of their hazing experiences.

Finding 6:
Students are not likely to report hazing to campus officials.
Of those who labeled their experiences as hazing (after reading the survey definition), 95% said they did not report the events to campus officials. When provided with a list of reasons for not reporting hazing, 37% said they did not want to get their team or group in trouble, but even more (54%) chose “other” as their response. When asked why they did not report their hazing experience, more than half of the respondents (54%) provided a reason other than what was listed.  When these student explanations were examined, the following patterns emerged:
Minimization of hazing

  • “It was no big deal.”
  • “No one was harmed.”
  • “I didn’t consider the hazing to be extreme or troubling.”

Being hazed is a choice

  • “I had a choice to participate or not.”
  • “I knew it would occur and was willing to be hazed. Consequently I didn't feel it bore reporting.”
  • “I was happy and willing to do all of the things I did, I have no desire to report them.”


  • It “made me a better man.”
  • “It made me and my brothers better people.  It was a positive experience!”
  • “Feelings afterward outweighed the pain or stress felt during it.”


  • “It was tradition so didn't mind.”
  • “Hazing is a right of passage.  If you can't take it, get out.”

Lack of Awareness

  • “I didn’t understand it was hazing until much later.”
  • “I didn’t know it was hazing and I felt no harm in it.”

Disagreement with “definitions” of hazing

  • “There is no problem with some actions the law considers hazing.”
  • “Because the given definition of hazing does not allow for significant and important practices which encourage personal development.”
  • “Don't believe there are negative consequences to the hazing observed by YOUR definition of hazing.”

Finding 7:
Students recognize hazing as part of the campus culture.
Students who reported on their experiences with at least one team or student organization were asked about hazing in student organizations on their campus, other than those to which they belong.  Nearly seven out of ten students (69%) say they are aware of hazing behaviors occurring within teams and student organizations on their campus.  Nearly one in four (24%) reported witnessing these hazing behaviors.  

This large number of students reporting knowledge of hazing suggests that hazing may be perceived as a typical part of the campus culture.  These perceived norms may influence the extent to which students choose to participate in and/or tolerate hazing. Further, knowledge of a group’s hazing activities prior to joining does not appear to deter students from joining teams or student organizations.  In fact, 32% of students who belonged to a student group or team had heard of or were aware of hazing behaviors before joining.  

Finding 8:
Students report limited exposure to prevention efforts that extend beyond a “hazing is not tolerated” approach.

The survey asked students if they had been exposed to common practices aimed at preventing hazing on college campuses.  The data show that anti-hazing policies were introduced to 39% of students as they were joining a team or organization.  Other prevention strategies to which students were frequently exposed include positive group activities, being told where to report hazing, and being made aware of a coach or advisor expectation that hazing would not occur.  The least reported prevention activities to which students report being involved are workshops on hazing presented by either adults or peers. 

Finding 9:
Students come to college having experienced hazing.

For many students who step onto a college campus and choose to join a team or organization, hazing is not a new experience.  The survey asked students to provide information on their high school experiences in joining and/or belonging to teams or student activities in their high schools.  Forty-seven percent of the respondents report experiencing at least one hazing behavior while in high school, including 51% of the male and 45% of the female respondents.  However, 84% of those who reported experiencing a hazing behavior do not consider themselves to have been hazed. A much smaller percentage of students (6%) admit to hazing someone else while they were in high school, including 9% of male and 4% of female respondents. 

Finding 10:
A gap exists between student experiences of hazing and their willingness to label it as such. 

  • Of students who report experiencing a hazing behavior in college, 9 out of 10 do not consider themselves to have been hazed. 

Most students who report having experienced a hazing behavior do not label their experience as hazing.  While more than half (55%) of college student respondents who affiliate with a student organization or team report experiencing at least one hazing behavior as a part of joining or maintaining membership in their group, nine out of ten (91%) do not view the experience as hazing.  During the interviews, students provided many explanations that offer clues to understanding this gap.

First, many students identify hazing with physical force involving activities such as paddling, beating, or tying up perspective members.  Still, others acknowledge that hazing involves more than physical force but do not perceive harm in other forms of hazing.  As one student said, “Hazing is good and hazing is bad.  It depends on how you are using it.  If you are using it to inflict harm on someone then it is bad.” 

Other students explained that in order to constitute hazing, an activity must be against the will of a person.  Many students did not account for the power of coercion involved in hazing dynamics.  In describing their own and others’ experiences, if a student perceived that one had made a “choice” to participate, then often the activity did not constitute hazing.  In fact, many maintained this belief while acknowledging that their college/university or a national professional organization/association held a different position.  The following student comment illustrates this position:

I think hazing is something that you are kind of forced to do to be a part of something against your own will.  But I have been told is that even if you are willfully doing it then it is [still] hazing.  That is where my perception of hazing is different from others, because if I think it is fun and something someone wants to do then it should not be considered hazing.”


For many it was a struggle to define hazing.  As one student said,

hazing is one of those things that you know, like pornography, you know it is not something you can really define and you know it when you see it.” 


Many described hazing as a “gray” area like the following student who said,


Hazing in my opinion is just a gray term… It comes out to a real personal preference.”


Further complicating the definition of hazing for students was that many believed an activity did not constitute hazing if it had a productive purpose as explained by a student who said, “I think there are a lot of definitions of hazing.  One that I have heard is anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable or threatened without a constructive purpose.”

Student definitions of, as well as rationalizations and justifications for hazing, are nuanced and complex.  Their explanations have the potential to offer valuable insights into student attitudes and beliefs and common perceptions about hazing.   These will be explored in more depth and reported on in a subsequent report.

This report describes the initial findings of the National Study on Student Hazing: Examining and Transforming Campus Cultures.  There are many more aspects of both the survey and interview data that will be analyzed and reported in the coming months.

Each participating institution provided a random sample of 25% of their full-time undergraduate student population, ages 18 to 25. Our ability to determine an exact return rate is limited by the use of a web-based instrument to survey students.  The procedure used to recruit student participants involved an email invitation sent to their campus email address.  The degree to which students rely on their campus email varies by institution.  If an email did not bounce we assumed it was delivered to the correct address, however, we have no way to determine if students utilize the address to which the email was sent.  Therefore, the response rate of 12% (based on the number of emails sent out and the number of returns) does not account for email invitations not read by students.  It is likely that the response rate is underestimated.  While the survey may not be representative of all students’ experiences in joining student organizations, we feel confident the number of student respondents provides the basis for valid analysis to promote an understanding of student hazing behaviors and to measure future changes in this behavior.


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Hazing: What’s the big deal?

Stories shared from the Globe and Mail newspaper September 20th and October 25th 2006 on-line editions and the websites: HazingatCornell.edu, badjocks.com and stophazing.org

Read the Paper

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