The earliest reports of hazing occurred in the early 1600s. At that time, it was referred to as “pennalism.” In some countries, this early form of hazing became a requirement for graduation in ancient and medieval schools.
The word “hazing” actually originated about 400 years ago from the punishment of sailors on long voyages. The rookies were forced to take part in acts that demonstrated their loyalty to fellow crew members, and these activities often would take place on “hazy” days, thus the term hazing was born.
Athletic administrators are now confronted with the responsibility of educating athletes on the dangers of hazing. It is important to implement programs that focus on the ramifications of such practices. With proper planning and communication of expectations towards conduct, organizations can deter undesirable behavior of high school student-athletes.
Defining Hazing and the Purpose of Hazing Education
Earlier this year, the athletic department at Northern Burlington County Regional School District in New Jersey piloted an anti-hazing program at the middle school level. This introductory effort was made at the middle school level as a precursor to establishing a program in the high school. Students were given a baseline test to identify general knowledge of hazing practices. The results were astonishing as more than 70 percent of the students tested could not accurately define or give examples of hazing.
Northern Burlington County Regional School District made a commitment to share the anti-hazing message with middle school students before they entered the high school setting. However, while the athletic department realized that this was a vital step to combating hazing, the main goal was to eventually work anti-hazing messages into the lives of high school student-athletes.
Athletic administrators should consider the students who will be exposed to the anti-hazing education program. While more mature individuals may have a better grasp of hazing, the purpose of the instruction needs to be clear. School policies and procedures, and Board of Education materials and forms should reference the district’s response to hazing practices.
Model a College or University Program
Rutgers University has a comprehensive website dedicated to hazing prevention, and many other colleges and universities have devoted equal attention to this illegal activity. Colleges and universities have confronted the problem of hazing, and effective protocols have worked their way down to the high school level. High school leaders should find a college or university website that fits the needs of their high school athletic program.
Many of these websites will specifically address college or university fraternities and sororities. It is, therefore, important to alter materials to suit the educational and athletic needs of the local school district.
Athletic administrators can communicate with other members in their league or association to ascertain what they have done to prevent hazing. Policies and procedures can be adopted that fit the mold and student population of their high school athletic programs.
Utilize High School Hazing Resources
Various professional organizations, including the NIAAA and NFHS, have tremendous resources on hazing prevention. For example, the NIAAA offers a Hazing Education DVD on the Publications and Products area of its website (www.niaaa.org). The NFHS offers anti-hazing resources on its website (www.nfhs.org) separated into four categories: General Information, School Staff Materials, Parental and Student Resources.
Athletic administrators should work with coaches and other school leaders to determine how these resource materials can be worked into informational parent nights, preseason speeches with high school athletes or other platforms that effectively communicate the district’s attention toward anti-hazing tactics.
Involve School Personnel
Hazing prevention does not have to be an isolated endeavor for the athletic administrator. He or she can involve principals, guidance counselors, school resource officers and coaches in the process. A PowerPoint can be created to involve others in the process. Most people have concerns for any activity that is potentially harmful.
Develop a Calendar and Concentrated Goal
Anti-hazing education should not start and end with a preseason speech. Other school-based programs that address safety of student-athletes – first aid response, automated external defibrillators protocol, epi-pen and allergy procedures, and other emergency practices – typically require reminders throughout the season. Hazing prevention efforts should be no different.
A start and end date for anti-hazing education should be developed and a specific group of athletes should be selected. The coaching staff should be involved in the process so that proper planning and adjustments can be made toward the practice schedule. Anti-hazing education can be just as effective on the tennis courts as the wrestling room.
Gather Data and Spread the Word
It is easy to assume that at the end of an anti-hazing program, student-athletes have learned something; however, it is more important to show the results of the learning process. A plan can be implemented that shows the growth of the student-athlete. Create a baseline test and use this as the focus of the instruction.
The results should be shared with the coaching staff and other building administrators. Objective data will communicate a program with purpose. This information can be used as a means for introducing the concept of anti-hazing education and as a means for inspiring a culture that takes hazing prevention seriously.
Display Sensitivity in the Process
Student-athletes may want to share personal experiences. They should be assured that there is a process for reporting hazing incidences without fear of repercussion. Students should be taught the differences between subtle hazing, harassment and violent hazing. An open forum should exist that allows students to express themselves and ask questions. An approachable attitude during the process will communicate an open-door policy for any future incident.
Evaluate Current Systems and Practices
A school’s athletic policies and practices may be outdated. These systems should be evaluated, and policies and procedures should be implemented that are reflective of the current times. Feedback from the coaching staff should be requested, and the school’s anti-hazing protocol should be assessed on an annual basis.
Hazing practices can affect the most prestigious of organizations – no institution is impermeable. Accordingly, anti-hazing procedures should be absorbed into the school athletic culture and appropriate team-building activities should be communicated that will properly build on student-athlete values.
Daniel Uszaki is the assistant principal of athletics for the Northern Burlington (New Jersey) County Regional School District and the president of the Burlington County Scholastic League. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.