UI study examines hazing on college campus

03/01/05

A clear discrepancy exists between college students' perceptions of hazing and university policy and state law defining hazing activities, according to a University of Iowa study that examined students' perceptions of hazing.

Shelly Campo, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of community and behavioral health and colleagues at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., surveyed more than 700 Cornell students on their attitudes toward team building and initiation behaviors. Among the students, 6.7 percent reported having participating in hazing, while nearly twice as many – 12.4 percent – reported having been hazed.

However, when given a list of team-building activities used by organizations, 36 percent of the students indicated that they had participated in one or more examples of hazing such as drinking games, sleep deprivation, destroying or stealing property, or physical assault. For the study, the researchers used New York state law and Cornell's code of academic integrity to define hazing activities.

The results are published in the March-April issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

The gap between students' and a university's definition of hazing may be due to students seeing hazing only as extreme types of activities, Campo said.

"Obviously, no one is going to condone activities that involve damaging property or sexually or physically assaulting a person," said Campo, who also holds a faculty appointment in communication studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "However, I think students are a lot more wishy-washy in terms of whether sleep deprivation or drinking games is hazing, for example.

"When you consider the fact that there also are a number of negative initiation activities that occur that don't meet the definition of hazing – such as being forced to carry unwanted objects or being required to remain silent for long periods of time – you can see this is not a minor concern," she said.

In the study, Campo and her colleagues also found that students who had engaged in hazing activities also were most likely to have participated in positive team-building activities like recreational sports, ropes courses or community service. Campo suggests that organizations that foster hazing also may add these non-hazing activities as part of team building and initiation, rather than replacing hazing with non-hazing activities. Many campus groups and organizations have long histories of community service in addition to reputations as places where hazing occurs, she said.

Despite its prevalence, hazing remains largely ignored on college campuses, Campo said.

"People have different ideas about whether students consent to these types of activities and what that means," she said. "A number of college administrators and faculty themselves participated in these types of activities when they were students, so there is a reluctance to see it as a major problem or take a stand against it. Some people feel it's simply part of the collegiate experience."

As for efforts to minimize or eliminate hazing, Campo advocates an approach that educates all students, not just those in the Greek system, about all forms of hazing and other negative team-building activities.

"This really is a public health issue on college campuses and we need to address this issue in terms of injury prevention and, in some cases, death prevention," she said.

Prevention campaigns should be geared toward first-year students who are beginning to form social connections at college, and all education/prevention efforts should provide ways for students to anonymously report hazing activities, she said.

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