Home Opinion Editorial Hazing must be criminalized.

Hazing must be criminalized.

A jury Oct. 31,2014 found a former member Dante Martin of Florida A&M University's Marching 100 band guilty of manslaughter in the fatal hazing of drum major Robert Champion. Martin, who faces up to 22 years in prison, showed no emotion as Circuit Judge Renee Roche read the verdict. Martin, 27, also was found guilty of felony hazing and two misdemeanor counts of hazing involving two other band members. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

There has been a minimum of one death per year from hazing between 1959-2019, according to recent studies published by Hazing Deaths Database

Hazing is notorious throughout college fraternities and sororities, military branches, sports teams, and other extracurricular groups. Individuals who support hazing argue that it teaches respect towards the values and practices, builds solidarity, and is a necessary component for initiation rituals throughout such groups.

Defined by Lehigh University, hazing is “any action taken or situation created, whether on or off campus, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.

What used to be harmless actions that built loyalty within newcomers has turned into an excuse to dehumanize individuals. Hazing can range from calling an individual “pledge” and making them perform household chores on a daily basis to extreme actions including, but not limited to, forcing a lethal dosage of alcohol consumption, physical beatings, or sexual, mental, and emotional abuse.

Sexually abusing someone’s genitalia while hanging them upside-down by their feet, screaming obscenities and derogatory names, and depriving someone of sleep cannot be necessary steps towards unifying a team – these are acts committed by individuals who want to feel a sense of empowerment over another person.

Hazing is illegal in 44 of the 50 states, and only 13 of those states have laws that allow felony prosecution if there is evidence of bodily harm. On Feb. 24, four Warren De La Salle Collegiate High School football players were charged with assault and battery from an alleged hazing incident that occurred in Oct. 2019 inside a locker room. The four players are described as “good kids” by their attorney and have pleaded not-guilty to a possible 93-day jail sentence.

Coaches, head administrators, drill instructors, or leaders claiming they aren’t aware these actions are transpiring is blasphemy.

John Talty, a senior sports editor for the state of Alabama’s news site, submitted a piece that covered his experience with hazing and its argued benefits, stating, “If it (hazing) accomplishes what it should, it makes men out of boys and women out of girls.” 

Those who support such egregious acts seem to believe if there’s only one out of ‘x’ amount of newcomers that can’t handle the situations during these initiations, there’s no issue. With “Stockholm syndrome” seemingly present within these individuals, they believe the antagonizers are doing right so long as the newcomers are accepted into the group – even after going through countless hours, days, weeks of abuse.

Individuals who have experienced hazing may argue that there are positive outcomes, but nothing positive stems from alcohol poisoning, electrocution, beatings, or sexual assault. Humans have allowed hazing to change from a concept that builds character to an alibi to spike psychological trauma within individuals who are simply searching for a sense of belonging and acceptance. Instead, these newcomers are met with actions that are downright inhumane.

With 40 deaths occurring between 2007-17 alone, a case that stands out was an incident from Florida A&M’s marching band. Fifteen to 20 members of the band were accused of beating an honorable drum major, Robert Champion, to death via band instruments, hands, and feet. Champion lost over half of his blood supply from severe hemorrhaging and died within minutes of the beating. And yet, only two individuals of all reported to be involved were sentenced to jail, while the rest walked away scot-free.

Colin Schlank, an alum from the University of Connecticut, was a previous fraternity member and submitted a piece to hazingprevention.org that included his experience with hazing throughout his time in college.

I knew that something was very wrong with the way we were being treated,” said Schlank. “It was as if we weren’t even people.”

Schlank also wrote, “Why do you call yourself my brother when you don’t treat me like one…don’t these actions contradict the core values of our fraternity?”

Rather than polluting our future leaders, these groups need to build a bridge towards developing intellectual individuals. When human life is lost, the reaction is to mindlessly label it as a mistake and “investigate” the situation all while shrugging our shoulders – this is a red flag. If someone you cared for was a victim or instigator, wouldn’t you want hazing to be criminalized?