We all know hazing is illegal, but we also all know someone who has been a victim of hazing in one way or another. James Bond, the assistant director of student conduct at the University of Maryland, said that when people go through something difficult, they’re proud of themselves for it.“But no one is a better person by experiencing hazing,” he said. Hazing can be dangerous, but people are reluctant to do anything about it out of fear of getting other people or organizations in trouble. No one deserves to be ostracized from an organization, but everyone deserves to feel safe. Here’s how you can protect yourself from hazing without outing anyone else.
Figure it out: what is considered hazing?
According to HazingPrevention.Org, “hazing is any action taken or any situation created intentionally that caused embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team.” If you think you or someone you know is a victim of hazing, you’re probably right. Hazing is a criminal offense, and victims can end up seriously injured or dead, so it’s important to recognize what hazing is so you can act quickly. Also, know that hazing is by no means an exclusively “Greek” problem. Unfortunately, all types of organizations can haze new members before official initiation.
Know that your health and well-being is everyone’s priority
…And it should be yours, too. Bond urged anyone who has been physically or emotionally harmed to get immediate help at either the health center or counseling center on your campus. There are definitely people available to talk to if you feel like you need to, and both are confidential places, he said. “Anyone who has gone through this should know it isn’t OK for any human being to violate the physical or emotional well-being of another,” said University of Maryland-Baltimore County counseling center psychologist Melissa Lean, Psy.D. She also said victims should engage in self-care: Go to the gym, meditate, go shopping—any technique that has helped you regulate your emotions in the past. Making time in your schedule for yourself, away from your group, can help you regain confidence and realign your values and goals.
Seek out consultation with the right resources
“You have a right to deal with it, and the resources on college campuses to deal with it,” said Lean. At the University of Maryland, Bond said students can report an act of hazing to the office of student conduct or the department that oversees the organization in question. If you want the report to be confidential, Bond said they will take that into consideration when pursuing their investigation. “We hope [our investigation] is going to give [the organization] cause to look at how they are conducting themselves,” Bond said. “Our priority isn’t to hold someone accountable, our priority is that dangerous behavior has stopped.” Lean also recommended that students call the head of the student organization and file a hypothetical report—this way you can learn about your options and get support without outing anyone.
Ask yourself (and others) the right questions
To avoid experiencing hazing in the first place, Lean said you should ask the right questions before joining a group. Find out how long it takes for new members to be initiated and ask what the actual process is like. Then, explore your own motivations for joining the group, staying affiliated with the group and staying loyal to the group, she said. Bond said this type of self-reflection is similar to the self-reflection you experience when cheating on an exam. Cheating may get you a good grade, but leaves you feeling like you haven’t connected with the course. You join an organization to do it the right way, but hazing doesn’t give you that opportunity. “It’s a barrier,” said Bond. “For a moment you might feel proud, but there’s also trauma that happens, and it’s something that stays with you.”