Inside the minds of hazers, victims

Ben Jutzi, News Editor

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At the time, she thought nothing of the numerous tasks she was to complete for her college sorority. She did not fear for her safety when told to eat things she had no desire to eat, to stay up late or to not go home. For Michelle Guobadia, associate dean of students and director of fraternity and sorority life at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the thought of seeking help never crossed her mind.

“[There is a fear of] backlash, of the social stigma,” said Guobadia. “[If you tell others about the hazing], you’re the one who got the group or club … in trouble, and [you have] to go to school with those people.”

Like Guobadia, many students become entangled in hazing or other demeaning and embarrassing actions during their time in college and high school. Oftentimes, this involvement comes from a desire to fit in with others, preventing many from reaching out for help while also pushing some victims, also like Guobadia, into becoming hazers themselves.

Guobadia said the precedent set by previous members of a group will commonly influence a person’s decision to haze or not haze others.

“[Hazing others] was just part of keeping up with the tradition,” said Guobadia. “I didn’t know any better, … and nobody taught me any other way.”

She said there is a concrete psychological decision that takes place on an individual level when determining whether or not to haze.

Norman Pollard, dean of students and assistant vice president of student affairs at Alfred University in New York, said another reason why people haze is to make their experiences in a group feel special or valuable.

“For a lot of high school students, being part of a club or a group defines their identity,” said Pollard. “They’re known as an athlete, or they’re known as someone who falls into a particular area, and so they try to give meaning … to that participation. As a result, they create different types of initiations or activities that new members have to go through in order to give value to that participation.”

Pollard said there are many different reasons somebody subjects himself or herself to hazing, one of the largest being the desire to gain a certain group’s acceptance.

“Part of being in high school is belonging, and one of the worst things is not belonging: being excluded or being shunned or being pushed away,” said Pollard. “People want to be part of that group. They want to feel that bond and that identity, and it’s a significant part of growth and development.”

Senior Seth Grossman said the immediate feeling of belonging he experienced when he was a newer member on the varsity soccer team made him want to be more inclusive as a senior, hoping to create the same positive, safe atmosphere.

According to Guobadia, hazers will often entice victims with the possibility of having power over others, leading many to suffer through hazing in silence.

“[People think], ‘If I just try a little bit harder or do this or do that, I can get what I want too,’” Guobadia said.

She said the fear of being cast out is not a good reason to submit to uncomfortable or painful “traditions.”

“When you’re [younger], it sounds like a really good reason not to seek help, because who wants to be a social pariah?” said Guobadia. “Nobody. I think, in hindsight, … you should definitely be seeking help because being cool is not the end-all and be-all.”

Guobadia said being aware of the feelings and emotions of people who haze or are hazed can help one identify if he or she is participating in hazing. There are multiple steps that can be taken to lower the risk of hazing, and the responsibility is often on the coaches or educators to set clear boundaries.

“[An important step is educating] what hazing is and what it isn’t, whether that’s the school or … community or team talking about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable,” said Guobadia. “I think the second [step] is … bystander intervention. When you see something, say something.”

Pollard said people can help avoid hazing by promoting positive methods of initiation.

“[Meaningful traditions] can be [performed] without becoming humiliating or dangerous,” Pollard said.

As a captain on the varsity soccer team, Grossman said he tries to communicate with his teammates to ensure they feel like they belong, hoping to help them avoid falling into a mindset that might lead to hazing.

“I like to check up on the guys every now and then,” said Grossman. “ … I [told] people at the beginning of the year, once they called out captains, [that] if they have any questions or concerns, you know, obviously they can go to the coach, but if they don’t feel comfortable doing that, I’m always here to talk.”

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Inside the minds of hazers, victims