Dr. Hank Nuwer on Hazing

Dr. Hank Nuwer on Hazing
Hazing used to be wide-spread years ago in all kinds of organizations including boarding schools. While it occurs much less frequently, hazing is still out there. So, we asked Dr. Hank Nuwer, a nationally recognized authority on the subject of hazing, to share his expertise with us.

We parents always worry about what goes on when we are not around to supervise our children. We all know that getting into mischief is part of growing up. Inevitably, it is going to happen. But we also want to know that there are well-known limits and accepted standards of behavior especially when we send our children off to boarding school. With that premise in mind, you and I are going to take a look at an issue that was much more commonplace years ago than it is now.

The following video outlines what hazing involves.

Hazing is a practice that used to be rampant in schools and organizations just about everywhere. It seemed to be part of our fraternal and educational culture. Fortunately, in these enlightened times in which blogging and instant messaging make it extremely difficult to keep bad news out of the public eye, hazing has all but disappeared in boarding schools. And that is a positive turn of events.

I asked Dr. Hank Nuwer, a nationally recognized authority on hazing, to weigh in on the subject. As Dr. Nuwer makes clear, boarding schools are indeed virtually free of hazing. That's because boarding schools insist on a high standard of supervision and community life designed to protect their students from any kind of harm. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hazing. It is one more reason why boarding schools are safe schools. They take their in loco parentis (in place of the parent) responsibilities very seriously.

1. Is it true that hazing is no longer found in U.S. boarding schools?

The good news is that boarding school hazing is not reported nearly as often as hazing in commuter-style high schools. You do get a smattering of complaints about athletes being subjected to Dazed and Confused-type pranks or minor forms of servitude such as new players carrying equipment or food trays. The bad news is that when a big story breaks, often there are allegations of some sort of disrobing, improper touching, or poking of a criminal nature. In military schools, the news stories most commonly are associated with verbal abuse of younger cadets and occasionally raised cries of physical pummeling. The good news is that I see educators all the time installing and enforcing hazing policies at boarding schools. Clearly, any out-of-control behavior now stands a good chance of incurring swift punishment and consequences.

Can you give examples of the latter?

Yes, in 2004 several senior girls at a prominent boarding school were under national scrutiny following allegations of improper requests of younger students during a game of Truth or Dare, a game that sometimes fits the definition of hazing if newcomers are required or expected to participate. The senior girls in this incident were immediately suspended from the school and the punishment was noted on their school records.

How do cases surface in the news?

Sometimes it is a parent who approaches a newspaper in hopes of additional details about an incident will be uncovered. Sometimes it is through civil litigation. In 2008 a famous New England school was sued for alleged hazing, but the school has denied most or all allegations. That case is ongoing and part of the public record. Historically, it is interesting with military schools to see that in 1920 a court ruled that hazing was appropriate and needed at the New York Military Academy of Cornwall and ruled against Dr. Emmett Hoa of Troy who had sued on behalf of his son Helmer who had been subjected to acts of servitude.

2. Bullying has become even harder to detect these days as it has gone electronic. Cyberbullying is now the new contagion. Has hazing gone electronic? Is there any sign of cyber-hazing?

In a way, the use of cell phone cameras and videotaping and photographing a hazing incident becomes the second hazing in my opinion. The victim cannot forget the trauma. It shows over and over again on Facebook or Youtube like some demented version of Groundhog Day.

3. Is hazing illegal in any states? If so, are the laws on the books enforced?

Hazing is illegal in some form of application in all states, and actual hazing laws are present in all states except Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Wyoming had a hazing bill that passed its house but failed in the senate a year back. Your question is a good one. When political pressure comes upon a local prosecutor, or if a school waits too long to call law enforcement and a coverup by perpetrators takes place, in many instances serious hazing cases merely drop off the map and are unprosecuted.

4. What kind of educational materials, training sessions, and seminars on hazing are available for schools, their staff, and students?

I'll start with my own. I began the Hazing Collection at Buffalo State College's library to place all forms of hazing research such as doctoral dissertations, videos and scholarly articles in Special Collections for any scholar or graduate student to consult so that more research on hazing might be encouraged.

This brief video shows us several ways to prevent hazing.

I also wrote an interactive hazing program for administrators and students which is sold through The Human Equation, a risk management company. I'm an advisory board member on hazing for Security on Campus, a watchdog group, and a board member on HazingPrevention.org, a group working to eradicate hazing. It presents the annual "Hank Nuwer Anti-hazing Hero Awards" each year to honor those who stood apart from the crowd and stood up to hazing. Last year there were 70 applicants.

There also are many speakers who put on educational programs such as I did recently at the Wilmington Friends School in Delaware, a very enjoyable experience for me. A long list of speakers is available at Stop Hazing.org There has been some exciting research on hazing with in-depth studies being conducted by Mary Madden and Elizabeth Allan of the University of Maine.

Books By Dr. Nuwer

  • Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing
  • The Hazing Reader
  • High School Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs
  • Wrongs of Passage

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @boardingschoolreview

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