It is incredibly important to build strong group bonds. However, there are some misguided beliefs about group bonding that can have a negative impact on individuals and group dynamics.
What is hazing?
Brandeis University's Rights and Responsibilities defines hazing as an activity imposed on someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers that person physically or emotionally, regardless of the person’s desire or willingness to participate. Examples of hazing common across student groups include: forced alcohol consumption; isolation; sleep deprivation; sex acts; and humiliating or painful “initiation” ordeals involving humiliation or discipline. Not only is hazing a violation of Brandeis' Rights and Responsibilities, it is also illegal under Massachusetts state law.
Hazing can occur in any group, organization, or team, including aacademic clubs, athletic teams, club sports, honor societies, marching bands, military groups, performing arts groups, religious groups, service organizations, and social fraternities and sororities.
Understanding hazing and consent
Some believe that it's not hazing if people were willing to participate. However, it is not possible to consent to being hazed for the following reasons:
- Hazing typically involves secrecy and deception. Without detailed explanations of what is going to happen, when, where, with whom, etc., it is impossible to give informed consent.
- Groups, organizations, and teams typically have a hierarchical structure, creating power dynamics within the group. The imbalance of power in a group can create an environment of coercion, which negates consent. Members may be told they "don't have to participate" but worry they might face consequences if they don't, such as social rejection and other punishments.
- Hazing often involves alcohol and other drugs. People cannot give consent if they are impaired due to alcohol or other drugs, or if they are impaired due to conditions such as sleep deprivation.
In summary, a person cannot consent to being hazed. This is why the legal definition of hazing includes the phrase "regardless of a person's desire or willingness to participate."
The impact of hazing
When it comes to hazing, severity is subjective. We may think we can judge how harmful an action is based on what we can observe, but the internal experiences of the person being hazed varies based on their personal and cultural history. So, what might seem fairly harmless to one person could in fact be very harmful to a person who has mental health concerns, a substance use disorder, a personal or cultural trauma history, or other experiences.
We cannot assume that we know everything about a person's experience, and therefore cannot predict how an activity will impact each individual.
Some potential harms of hazing include:
- Academic impacts
- Resentment, anger, and/or a sense of betrayal
- Anxiety and depression
- Traumatization or re-traumatization
- Severe intoxication
What to do if you, or someone else, may be experiencing hazing
Hazing a violation of Brandeis' Rights and Responsibilities. If you or someone you know is experiencing hazing, you can report it to the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards (SRCS) using the Report It form. You have the option to report anonymously, although sharing your name can be helpful. By sharing your name, staff will be able to follow up with you and connect you with other resources and supports.
If you are not sure or have questions about hazing, you can contact the SRCS staff to discuss your concerns or learn more about the conduct process.
You can also reach out to the following confidential resources for support and guidance:
Positive ways to build strong group bonds
There are many alternatives to hazing that actually do a better job of creating strong group bonds. Some guidelines for developing positive bonding activities include:
- Make your activity as inclusive as possible. Think about whether this is something that everyone can participate in equally, despite having different abilities, backgrounds, identities, and comfort levels.
- Make your activity as safe as possible. Creating safe spaces for connection can enhance bonding. A person is less able to relax and connect when they are nervous or uncomfortable. Let new members know exactly what to expect, and set expectations for group behavior. Try to create a "low pressure" environment. Avoid activities that encourage physical or emotional challenges and risk-taking.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs. This will help make your event both physically and emotionally safer, as well as more accessible and inclusive for those who struggle with substance abuse, are in recovery, or have a family history of substance abuse.
- Create opportunities for conversation. Many students say that their favorite bonding memories involve activities that created space for discussion, sharing stories, or just "hanging out" and spending time together. For example, going out to dinner together allows for more conversation than than a loud party where it's hard to hear one another.
- Focus on your group values. What are your group values? If you don't have any written down, it could be a great opportunity to work together and create them. Design activities that build each other up in accordance with your values. Re-evaluate existing traditions to ensure they align with your group values.
- Tweak your traditions. It may be that some of your group's beloved traditions are problematic or unsafe. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to completely abandon or denounce your group's traditions or history. Instead, work together to adapt or update the tradition so that aligns with your group's current goals and values.
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