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Archive for Friday, May 10, 2002

Research reveals widespread hazing

May 10, 2002

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A high school golf team member was left virtually hairless when duct tape wrapped around his body was pulled off after a hazing ritual.

Underclassmen paid tribute to seniors in high school band by rustling them out of bed before dawn for a special breakfast.

And sophomores were paddled in the middle of the night by a collection of about 30 seniors.

Unusual? Not a bit. It happens year after year to Lawrence public school students, according to parents and school officials. Perpetrators are victims' friends and acquaintances at school. And this behavior, according to a national study, thrives beyond Lawrence. The epidemic of harassment and assault occurs across the nation in just about any type of organization involving teen-agers.

"It goes on everywhere, even in church groups," Sue Goetschius of Alfred University said Thursday.

She said researchers at the New York university had completed a study of hazing among high school students in 2000. They found nearly half 48 percent of 1,390 students who belong to an organized group reported being hazed.

One-fourth of the students said hazing started before the age of 13.

Most hazing was reported in conjunction with sports teams, gangs, musical groups and religious organizations. Approximately 2 million teen-agers are being hazed annually, researchers said.

"Many students do not distinguish between fun and hazing," Goetschius said.

Lawrence focus

The issue was brought into focus last weekend in Lawrence because Lawrence High seniors collected more than one-half dozen sophomores for a rite-of-passage paddle session. Some of the seniors had been spanked two years before and were primed for payback.

After outcry from parents of some victims, LHS Principal Dick Patterson ordered 16 seniors suspended for two days, excluded them from senior week activities and forced them to take final exams. At least seven of the suspended are on the LHS baseball team.

On Wednesday, Patterson called for formation of a parent-student advisory group that would work to circumvent the need for hazing by creating meaningful bonding rites for athletics teams and school groups.

He said it could take several years to create new traditions that didn't jeopardize the physical or mental well-being of students.

"It takes time to change attitudes," Patterson said. "It's kind of like a cultural change. You've got to have a united mission, an awareness of how you can still end up with bonding, a feeling of membership and acceptance."

Punishment necessary

Goetschius said nonthreatening activities might including having players take an anti-hazing oath as they join the team, completing team-building obstacle course exercises or doing volunteer community work as a group.

However, she said, students in the survey said punishment and prosecution must be part of the mix. Sixty-one percent said strong discipline was needed to combat hazing. Fifty percent thought investigation and prosecution by law enforcement to be crucial.

In the study, hazing was defined for students as "any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate."

Goetschius said some students and adults view hazing as harmless exercises in camaraderie.

"They don't understand that it's potentially harmful," she said.

She said 71 percent of students subjected to hazing reported feelings of resentment, difficulty sleeping, concentrating or eating and getting into fights with other students or parents.

Other findings of the study:

48 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls said they were made to engage in humiliating behaviors, such as being yelled or cursed at; told to skip school or not associate with certain people; forced to eat disgusting items; or tattooed, shaved or pierced.

24 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls reported being forced to drink alcohol or smoke or use illegal drugs; made to participate in drinking games; or exercising or drinking until passing out.

27 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls said they were forced to vandalize property, steal or cheat, or engage in sexual acts.

Alfred University mailed a two-page questionnaire to a random sample of 20,000 high school juniors and seniors. The researchers received 1,541 useable responses, which equated to a rate of 8 percent.

They embarked on the project because a 1999 survey indicated 42 percent of college athletes who said they were hazed to join their college team reported that they had first been hazed in high school. Five percent of these collegiate athletes said they were initially hazed in junior high school.

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