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Guest Host: Steve Roberts
For the past four decades, at least one student a year has died as a result of hazing on U.S. college campuses. Last year hazing claimed the lives of two young people, one at Cornell University and another at Florida A&M. At least 44 states have laws designed to curb harmful rites of induction into fraternities, sororities, marching bands and other campus groups. But those who break the laws are rarely prosecuted. Some anti-hazing advocates call for ridding campuses of the Greek societies that often have a long tradition of initiation rites that sometimes turn dangerous. Others argue these groups and clubs do more good than harm. Guest host Steve Roberts talks with a panel of experts about efforts to stop hazing.
- Dr. David Skorton president of Cornell University. As a physician, he treated teenagers and young adults with heart disease.
- Sara Lipka senior editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Susan Lipkins psychologist who specializes in conflict and violence in high school and college, and author of "Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment and Humiliation."
- Hank Nuwer associate professor of journalism at Franklin College and author of several books on hazing, including "Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge-Drinking."
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's away on vacation. Millions of American college students have survived initiation rites into Greek societies, marching bands, sports teams and other campus groups. But every year since the 1970s, at least one student has died from hazing-related rituals. Today we'll talk about whether more needs to be done to curb hazing on American campuses.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me in the studio: Sara Lipka of The Chronicle of Higher Education, who covers student issues for The Chronicle. From a studio in -- at Florida A&M, Hank Nuwer is the author of several books on hazing, and from Port Washington, N.Y., psychologist Susan Lipkins. Welcome to you all. Nice to have you on "The Diane Rehm Show" this morning.
PROF. HANK NUWERThank you.
MS. SARA LIPKAThanks.
ROBERTSAnd please join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850. I bet many of you have personal experiences, both the positive and negative sides of college life, and, please, join us with your own reflections and experiences. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, Hank Nuwer, as you've written many times, there's nothing new about hazing. It goes back hundreds of years. But what's new about it? Are there new trends we should be aware of?
NUWERWell, hazing goes back about 2,000 years, and it -- it's really a human rights abuse. Kind of what's new is that the hazing deaths have spread, not only in the U.S.A. but to India, the Philippines and other nations. And it shouldn't matter that so many people believe in hazing. Again, it's a human rights abuse. And not so long ago, there were people who accepted religious intolerance, segregation and slavery.
ROBERTSAnd, Susan Lipkins, you've studied the psychological damage. Hank Nuwer has written about the deaths, over a hundred of them. Those are the cases that tend to get the most publicity. But there's another side to this as well.
DR. SUSAN LIPKINSRight. Many, many students will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression. Often their grades will drop, and sometimes they have to actually leave the campuses.
ROBERTSAnd, Sara, you write about this. What's your sense of the -- is there a trend here? Is there anything new that you're noticing as you write about this?
LIPKAI think what we're seeing is more attention to hazing. I think that with some of the developments in the anti-bullying movement, there's been more attention to this, people looking at it more closely, colleges taking it more seriously and, in part, because they care about their students and, in part, also because the families of students who have died in hazing or students who have been victims of hazing will sue the institutions.
ROBERTSAre you seeing a rise in that kind of litigation?
LIPKAI'm not so sure that there's been a rise, but there had been some really high-profiled cases and -- including some that are now pending.
ROBERTSAnd, look, a lot of people listening might say, everybody who undergoes hazing does it by choice. No one is drafted into a marching band or a fraternity. No one is required to do this. And how do you answer people, Hank Nuwer, who say, hey, anybody who goes through this has volunteered for the experience?
NUWERWell, it -- the newcomers who had willingly, supposedly go into it have maybe a fear of retribution, number one. And, number two, as Irving Janis says, they would miss the slaps on the back into a group they would really want. There is a great deal of excitement and exhilaration to get into such a group and to lose it would be a dreadful experience for a new person. The other thing about it, however, is that there is a fear that the entire organization will go down if a single person reports some vicious hazing.
NUWERAnd often, that is the case. We're seeing more and more chapters fold at this particular time. And while we're seeing more and more anti-hazing education efforts by Greeks, by colleges such as Florida A&M today, we're still seeing the deaths. There was an alcohol-related death just a couple of weeks ago at Fresno State University.
ROBERTSBut the question I'm asking -- and perhaps, Susan Lipkins, you can add to this.
ROBERTSWhy do people choose to go through this? As I say, no one is drafted into this, but there…
LIPKINSNo, I don't agree with you. I don't agree with you at all. You know, what happens is if you've been studying to be on the football team or the lacrosse team or to be, you know, in the marching band your whole life and that's all you want, there's only one football team and this is what you have to do in order to be on the football team, you will do it. And, most importantly, they don't tell you. It's not like an operation where the surgeons tell you this is what's going to happen before, during and after.
LIPKINSThere's secrecy, and they specifically do not tell you what the hazing is going to be involved. And on the Greek organizations, often they say, you know, kids will say, we heard that this is what's going to happen. And the Greeks say, absolutely not. And then it's exactly what happens. So, you know, there's a lot of bait-and-switch that goes on, and there's a lot of secrecy that goes on. And so people do not know what's going to happen. They do not know what hell week is going to be like. So I don't agree with you that they're going into it with their eyes wide open.
NUWERSusan, I agree because, two weeks ago, at Geneseo State with the volleyball team with the women, the girls thought they were going to repeat a party that they had the week before. Instead, they were handcuffed, made to drink, and one woman nearly died when she was abandoned by the veterans and was found by strangers who called 911 and saved her life.
LIPKAI can add to this also that there are many states that have anti- hazing laws. The law in Florida bans consent as a defense by alleged perpetrators.
ROBERTSTalk about -- each of you talk about the other side of this, which is the people who engage in the hazing. You know, these are college kids. I'm sure many of them love their mothers and are -- become upstanding citizens. What is this -- Susan Lipkins, what is the psychology that draws kids into this kind of behavior that -- where they're drawn to humiliating and damaging others?
LIPKINSWell, I think it's -- what -- something I call the blueprint of hazing where you come in and you're new and you're a victim. You are hazed. Then you become a bystander, and you watch as others get hazed. And, eventually, you are now the perpetrator. You have power, and you feel like you have the right and the duty to pass on the tradition and do unto others what was done to you. And each time, they want to add their own mark. So there's a little more alcohol, a little more paddling, a little more sexuality or humiliation. And so it grows year after year.
LIPKINSAnd it's not one person who's, like, the bad egg. This is -- look, it's happened to me, and it's going to be my turn. And when I do it to you, not only am I passing on a tradition, but I am gaining back that piece of myself that I lost when I was humiliated and victimized.
NUWERAnd, Steve, to jump on to that, a big part of the problem, maybe a hidden problem, is the role of alumni. There have been alumni present at deaths at Plattsburgh State, University of South Carolina in a fraternity initiation. And so those alumni are doing a real disservice to the younger people, but rarely are they swept up when there are arrests for a hazing death.
ROBERTSAnd, Sara Lipka, what are we really -- you report on this issue. We mentioned alcohol. But for people who aren't familiar with what we're really talking about, what is the experience of hazing? What are people forced to go through?
LIPKAI think alcohol is definitely a factor in a lot of hazing cases. You see, in terms of hazing deaths, a lot of them are related to alcohol poisoning.
LIPKAThen there's also the physical activity. The student who died last year, the drum major at Florida A&M University was beaten to death. So that's something else that may take place. There are cases of humiliation. And alcohol and physical abuse, I think, are kind of the most common things you're seeing, particularly in reports of injuries or deaths.
ROBERTSNow, let me ask this, though. You're all agreed on the downside of this, but defenders of the Greek system, defenders of college organizations will say that the end result here is a bonding experience that has enormously powerful and beneficial effects on young people looking for a place to belong. How do you answer people who make that argument?
NUWERI often say that basically it also leads to cliques. It leads to divisions in the fraternity or in another group that never are solved. You know, we go all the way back to Martin Luther King who extolled the so-called benefits of hazing. But, in essence, what we really have here are organizations contributing to the delinquency of either minors or young people who are not ready to make these decisions.
NUWERAnd with group think, when someone dies, the pledge of brotherhood or sisterhood leads to a code of silence. So what we're talking about is corruption, and I often wonder if that corruption is will go into their adult lives.
ROBERTSBut, Susan Lipkins, isn't -- aren't rights of passage an absolute, essential dimension of making the transition from childhood to adulthood? Do you see no social utility whatever in these (word?) ?
LIPKINSNo. Unfortunately, I do understand, and I do see the kind of bonding that goes on during hazing. I would argue that we don't have to haze or hurt anybody. We don't have to humiliate or psychologically damage somebody in order to feel bonded. And you know yourself, when you work together, wherever you're working, you know, you start to have coworkers who you bond with just as you go through the work. Or if you're on a football team and you're practicing, you bond with those people.
LIPKINSOr you're on a trip on a bus, you bond with the people. You don't need to be humiliated. You don't need to be paddled. You don't need to have to go through the kind of things that hazing makes people do. And that's what we have to notice, that, you know, you are already bonded. You don't have to have this extra kind of experience. And what's happened in colleges is they've found that they've added ropes courses or they've done other kinds of things to substitute the negative kind of activities with positive.
LIPKINSSo what happens is during the day, the kids do what the university wants them, and at night, they go back and they do the hazing that they were going to repeat anyhow.
ROBERTSWell, Sara, you talk about many states have anti-hazing laws. Many colleges have tried. This is hazing awareness week at one of the Texas universities. Why has the attempts to really control this not been very successful?
LIPKAWell, most colleges have a policy banning hazing. So if students violate that, they're subject to some kind of disciplinary action. And colleges have tried other kinds of penalties, restrictions. They've closed fraternity houses or required live-in advisors, set up internal accreditation programs to check up on the groups. And it's possible that there's been some success, but I don't think any place could say that this behavior is totally eradicated.
ROBERTSThat is Sara Lipka. She covers student affairs for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Hank Nuwer is on the line with me. He is the author of several books on hazing. He is, today, at Florida A&M, making a speech where one of the most noteworthy examples of hazing took place. And psychologist Susan Lipkins is on the phone from Port Washington, N.Y. We're going to talk to the president of Cornell University when we come back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And our subject this hour: hazing on college campuses by sports clubs, Greek societies, other groups. Three experts with me: Sara Lipka is in the studio. She's with The Chronicle of Higher Education, from a studio in Florida. Hank Nuwer, who's an assistant professor at Franklin College in Indiana and also -- associate professor, also author of several books on hazing. And psychologist Susan Lipkins is on the phone with me.
ROBERTSAnd also we're joined now by Dr. David Skorton. He is the president of Cornell University. He's a cardiologist. He's treated teenagers and young adults with heart disease. But he presides over a college where hazing has been a very controversial issue. There was a tragic death of a student at Cornell last year. And, Dr. Skorton, we very much appreciate your being with on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.
DR. DAVID SKORTONWell, thanks so much. And it's an honor to be a part of this discussion, which includes people whose opinions I respected for a long time. Unfortunately, this is a problem that we haven't really made a dent in for a very long time anywhere that I'm aware of, nothing really significant.
ROBERTSBut you've tried to be very proactive at Cornell. What have you done?
SKORTONWell, the first thing is, as you alluded to, we suffered a tragic and unnecessary loss of a young life a year ago, February, in a hazing incident. And we thought about this a lot. I thought about it a lot. And I decided that we need to engage the people in the system where this happened to work with us to find a solution. With all deference and respect, people my age or people in the positions of those on this call, have added a lot to the knowledge base about what we're talking about.
SKORTONBut in terms of the day-to-day practices, as one of your colleagues mentioned a few minutes ago, no matter what sort of alternatives we offer, the students are choosing to go back and participate in this activity from both ends. So what I decided to do was to tell the student leaders and the alumni leaders of the Greek system on our campus that they had one complete cycle of the Greek system intake to end pledging as we currently know it. And I was never a member of the Greek system when I was in college many decades ago.
SKORTONBut just for a real quick primer for everybody, there are sort of three stages in getting into one of these organizations like many other organizations. One is that the individual chooses to apply. The second is the organization chooses to accept them. And the third is this sort of education or so-called education process in which someone is brought into the fold. And it's that process, pledging process in which a reasonable call for education about whatever the organization is has been subverted into a humiliating, degrading, dangerous process that affects the student's psyches and can take their lives as well.
SKORTONSo I'm awaiting to receive the result of this task force that's been going on for a year. It'll be delivered to me within the next few weeks. I wish I had it now so I could tell you about it.
ROBERTSBut you're focusing on the pledging process because your thoughtfulness and study has said that's where the highest risk behavior takes place.
SKORTONWell, as a doc, I believe in risk factors, just like we have risk factors for heart disease and everything else, and I know that one risk factor for this particular problem in this particular setting, that is, in the Greek system, is the pledging process. It is important to say, though, that not all fraternities practice hazing. And as your colleagues have said today, not all hazing occurs in fraternities. This is a ubiquitous problem in sports teams and many other areas.
SKORTONMost students in surveys will report something that could be interpreted as hazing. So this is a big, big issue, and I want to try to set the precedent here with my colleagues and the student leadership and the alumni leadership that we can take the people who are supportive of the system, want to see the system survive and that they will develop an alternative which has to pass muster with me and other leaders at the university.
ROBERTSNow, one of the key decisions you made was not to eliminate the Greek system at Cornell, with Cornell being a somewhat remote place. It's like Dartmouth and some other campuses where the Greek system tends to be a particularly important part of social life when -- you know, I teach at George Washington University -- you can walk to Georgetown in Washington, GW. It's a very different social experience. Why did you make the decision, and what is it about Greek life that you felt was important to preserve?
SKORTONThis was a very, very hard decision. You're hitting on the hardest part of the whole decision for me. And since I was not part of the Greek system when I was in college, I took my information on it from people I knew over the decades and also from the current students, recent alumni and alumni who have been out for a while from Cornell. Cornell has a large presence for the Greek system on campus.
SKORTONWhen I first came here, about a third of the students were involved in the Greek system. That's a big number. It's still about 25 percent or a little higher than 25 percent. So one thing, as you've alluded to, is it this part of the culture here. Secondly, I would say close to unanimously, people told me about benefits of the system in terms of networking years later, leadership experiences and so on and so forth. There was surprisingly almost no pushback on my call to end pledging as we know it.
SKORTONThere were concerns raised about we don't want to throw the baby out with a bath water, but basically I think everyone understands on this campus that its unacceptable to allow behaviors that can lead to, as one of your colleagues said, post-traumatic stress disorder, let alone a death of a teenager or young adult sent to college to grow and ends up dying unnecessarily.
SKORTONSo we have people's attention right now.
ROBERTSRight. Dr. Skorton, you've mentioned alumni many times in your conversation, and I understand these are important stakeholders in any university. But it also sounds they're particularly ardent defenders of the Greek system. As Dr. Lipkins pointed out, that once you've gone through this process, it has an effect on you and it's not just as a pledge but then as a brother or sister in a sorority.
SKORTONThat's exactly the point. That's exactly the point. The people who want to see it survive are those who are most motivated to make changes that will be acceptable. And I want to be clear that my senior colleagues and I at Cornell University, the bureaucrats, are going to hold the system to a high standard. In other words, it will have to be something that convinces me and the other senior colleagues who are specialists in this area at Cornell.
SKORTONIt'll have to convince us that this is going to stand a reasonable chance of putting a dent in a problem that's going on for centuries, as was mentioned earlier today. And it's interesting, again, that I got almost no pushback on this idea of eliminating pledging as we know it.
ROBERTSLet me ask you one more point. You've been very helpful in talking with us this morning. We were talking earlier also about this particularly vulnerable, but important phase in a young person's life: leaving home, forging a new identity. As Dr. Lipkins and Hank Nuwer mentioned this, they can be very vulnerable at this point. But do you also factor in the risk of being overprotective and not giving students enough space to reform and redefine who they are?
ROBERTSAnd if that's true, are you thinking about other mechanisms, other processes, other experiences that can be a healthy contribution to this process of forming an adult identity?
SKORTONThis is really the crux of the whole problem naturally on a campus that suffered a death. It's too far long a process for us to worry about whether we're airing -- I believe, whether were airing on the side of being too protective. We don't live in in loco parentis world anymore legally, but I still think it's very, very important that my number one job at this university is to defend student health and well-being. Without student health and well-being, there cannot be academic progress. There cannot be networking. There cannot be a successful career in college, let alone later in life.
SKORTONSo, yes, people who came before me on this campus have developed a terrific set of tools, a public health approach, medical amnesty plan so that a student doesn't to worry about being punished or singled out if a report of excessive drinking occurs. We have programs through an organization called Cornell Outdoor Education where, as one of your colleagues mentioned, students can find other ways to bond. But I think that -- I'm willing to take the risk and jump in with both feet on the side to say that this is just not acceptable to bring students psychological damage, let alone a death.
SKORTONAnd I do want to mention -- again, to reinforce what was said already on this excellent discussion -- that this is a ubiquitous problem -- unfortunately, the word is ubiquitous -- across many, many parts of our society. I can tell you as a physician that years ago, when immediate postgraduate training internships and residencies included working 100, 110 hours a week, that's a sort of a hazing in a way.
SKORTONIt's a sort of a hazing in a way. And so many other sectors of society are beginning to make progress in this, and we're going to do our very best to begin a national dialogue on this at Cornell because something went terribly wrong.
ROBERTSDr. David Skorton, the president of Cornell. Thank you so much for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show." We really appreciate it.
SKORTONThanks for bringing everybody together for such an excellent discussion. I'm learning a lot by listening.
ROBERTSWell, good. I hope our listeners are too. Thanks again. Let me ask the panel to sort of respond and give me your reaction. Sara, start. You heard Dr. Skorton. What were you thinking when you heard him?
LIPKASure. And last year when he announced that there would be this ban on pledging at Cornell, that they're now soliciting the input of the students themselves, it's just really important to try to make something work. There's a lot of...
ROBERTSStudents and alumni, which was something he stressed a lot.
LIPKAStudents and alumni. Sure, sure. And I think that there's a lot of curiosity to see how this will go. There's hope that, like Dr. Skorton said, that there will be a dent made in this problem at Cornell. There were some other observers of the ban there, announced last year, who weren't so sure. There is a ban on pledging by the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which is a group of eight black fraternities and sororities in 1990. And some people who have closely followed that situation have concluded that the ban didn't really work, that there is still pledging going on in some way.
ROBERTSHank Nuwer, what was your reaction?
NUWERWell, first, a disclosure: I'm paid adviser to the task force at Cornell University. I think I -- what I would say is that I heard in Dr. Skorton what I see and hear in the members of this task force, that they are motivated to make changes, that they're discouraged a bit by the death, they're saddened by the death. But Cornell's deaths go back to an innocent bystander in the 1890s.
NUWER1873, the very first hazing death in the country was at Cornell, 1900, another death in that same fraternity. Cornell's had this history. And I'm proud to say I'm a part of this task force that's trying to end this long history of deaths.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan Lipkins, what's your reaction?
LIPKINSWell, I have two. One is I've always looked at Cornell as really being outstanding and a leader in -- across the nation in terms of their anti-hazing programs. So I'm really happy that -- to see that they're continuing. On the other hand, I think that there's a symbiotic relationship that goes on between alumni and fraternities, you know, Greek organizations and colleges. The Greek organizations provide housing, extra housing to many universities, maybe not Cornell, but lots of universities. And also, it brings back the alumni. So the alumni are more likely to contribute as a, you know, to...
ROBERTSMm hmm. Oh, absolutely. There is a financial dimension to this story.
LIPKINSYeah. So, you know, we have to question, you know, why -- what part will the alumni play in this new program that Cornell is doing? Will the alumni be held responsible, you know, economically if there is a lawsuit and if the pledging continues? Because they do have a role to play, and, as Hank Nuwer has said, they're often present, you know. And they are part of this, but they're not held responsible for it. So the alumni, you know, have a -- you know, it's another facet. They're not on campus, but they -- but their presence is felt.
ROBERTSWell -- and as you pointed out, one of the -- and Dr. Skorton alluded to it a number of times, that the alumni tend to be very strong supporters of the systems that produce them. And one of the inducements for young people to join Greek organizations or anyone -- you know, I joined a student newspaper -- it had many of the same qualities as a Greek organization when I went to college -- was because you join a network, and that -- and this is very much part of the inducement, right, Sara?
LIPKARight. And I think that -- some people have argued for banning Greek organizations altogether, and I think one of the reasons that you haven't seen that response more by colleges is because of the influence of alumni. You know, there are many members of a campus community, including alumni, some of whom are influential donors to the university who feel very strongly about upholding the traditions of these organizations. There are some colleges, particularly small liberal arts colleges, that have banned fraternities and sororities, but it has been a very uncommon response.
ROBERTSLet me read some emails from a couple of our listeners who want to get in on this conversation. This is from Megan, who writes, "I'm glad that people are talking about hazing, how dangerous it can be. The psychological aspects are so important. I wonder if the guests could discuss positive ways of building communities and bringing people into groups. It wouldn't necessarily be positive hazing, but certainly something constructive." This is a important dimension to this conversation. Susan Lipkins, how would you answer Megan?
LIPKINSI think that we've tried, as I said, with, you know, rock climbing kind of things and other positive activities that have not worked. It would be great if the organizations had to do something like, you know, Habitat for Humanity, build a house for -- in the community, do something positive instead of the kinds of hazing that has gone on. That would have to be supervised by the university, and it's all about supervision because the kids will do anything by day. But at night and the weekends, that's when we need to see the supervision and see that the underground hazing doesn't continue.
LIPKINSSo it really doesn't -- unfortunately, I don't -- I think that we could provide positive activities, but that doesn't mean that the negative ones aren't going to continue.
ROBERTSMm hmm. Let me quickly add -- read another email from Kenneth, who says, "I attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., birthplace of first two Greek societies for women. And the college banned Greek societies in the early 1900s, moving to a sister class system. The Purple Knights, Green Knights, Golden Hearts, Red Pirates sister classes have been used since that time on a rotating basis. I'm a proud Purple Knight, class of 1998.
ROBERTS"The sisterhood at the college is better since all students are in the sister class of the year they entered the college. You get a big sister and a little sister. You don't miss having sororities in the least." Anybody got a reaction quickly to that?
NUWERWell, I think -- I'm the adviser at Franklin College to Alpha Lambda Delta. And our bonding activities are working with brothers and sisters clubs or working at the Masonic clubs, having social activities that don't involve alcohol. And so with the schools that have gotten rid of the Greek system, as you're just mentioning, there still is a stupendous problem with alcohol.
NUWERIt's no surprise to me that from 1838 to 1939, not a single person died from alcohol and hazing death, whereas from 1940 to 2012, my figures show that 70 of the 137 deaths by alcohol had alcohol as a contributing factor. And the other 67, alcohol was either unreported because it was not checked by police or not involved.
ROBERTSOK. That's -- you're going to have to hold it there for a minute. Hank Nuwer is author of several books on hazing, Sara Lipka, Chronicle of Higher Education, psychologist Susan Lipkins. And also thanks to President David Skorton of Cornell. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. We'll be back with your comments, more of your emails and your phone calls. So stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. Our subject this hour is hazing on college campuses by fraternities, sports teams, marching bands. I have three experts with me to talk about this. Sara Lipka covers these issues for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Hank Nuwer from Franklin College in Indiana has also written extensively on this subject, and psychologist Susan Lipkins. And we have a number of emails who -- and I want to read them and get your reaction.
ROBERTSFirst one is from Andy, who says "I was in a cooperative living association in college 50 years ago. I happen -- it happened to have a Greek letter name. The rights of initiation included no alcohol or physical contact. We were required as a group to prepare and sing the song, a week to memorize the Greek alphabet, the names and locations of all campus halls, each members name, et cetera. The only punishment was to carry anywhere from one to three extra books for failure to perform. I hope we won't paint all fraternities with the same brush." Sara.
LIPKAI think there are some groups and their national organizations with campus chapters. So there's quite a wide variety of these kinds of groups around, and a lot of them really get it right -- the community service kinds of things that people have been talking about, Susan mentioned Habitat for Humanity. I think there are a lot of groups doing these kinds of things, really trying to develop leadership and character.
LIPKAI know the fraternity known as SigEp has been pursuing a new form of initiation for the past couple of decades called the balanced man program, trying to defend principles of virtue, diligence, brotherly love, and it's almost more of a scouting-type approach to brotherhood.
ROBERTSLet me read this email from Denise who writes to us from Baltimore: "I am in no way minimizing the issue of hazing. It's a dangerous and horrific practice. However, please, be sure to acknowledge that there were many, many organizations that successfully pledged new members without hazing in half of decades. I'm a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, pledged over 30 years ago at Lock Haven State in Pennsylvania.
ROBERTS"We had many challenges and bonding experiences when pledging, but hazing was never a part of the process." Susan, you said that these attempts to substitute for hazing has not been very successful 'cause hazing goes underground. But here as Denise says, you know, it can work.
LIPKINSYou know what I think is really interesting, we found in research that when we asked kids, what is the definition of hazing, they can give it to us. They we asked them, have you been hazed? And they say no. And we say, well, have you been kidnapped? Have you been sleep-deprived? They say, yes, yes. Have you had a drink X amount of alcohol in one amount of time? Yes. Have you had to eat, you know, substances that you would not normally eat? Yes.
LIPKINSAnd then we ask, have you been hazed? They say no. So there's a huge disconnect for people between what their experience has been and whether or not we would define it -- we or the law might define it as hazing. So I'm glad to hear that many people across the country have had experiences which we may define as hazing and they may not or where positive experience as bonding.
LIPKINSBut we really have to remember that there's not only hazing in Greek organizations. You know, 50 percent of the athletic teams in -- back 2005, I looked at this, 50 percent of the teams had sodomy as part of their ritual, as part of their hazing ritual. So they're on athletic teams. They're on debate teams. They're throughout any kind of organizations that has a hierarchy. Twenty-four percent of the kids who are in church groups have been hazed.
LIPKINSSo that means maybe 75 percent haven't, but we still have, you know, a quarter who has. So hazing is throughout the country, throughout organizations that had a pecking order, that have a hierarchy or that want to maintain discipline.
ROBERTSAnd, Hank Nuwer, let me read you this email from Carol -- this is several emails and callers in a similar theme -- "How can parents encourage their students to say no to a hazing situation either on the victim or the perpetrator's side?"
NUWERI think before they go off, I think the parents need to go to the school and get -- and assess the group that your son or daughter wants. In the case of a friend whose son wanted join Zeta Beta Tau at the University of Maryland, his son as a pledge, extolled the benefits of it but did not know the history of the organization. Do your research. And groups change.
NUWERPhi Delta Theta, which had a death at Auburn of a community college student named Chad Saucier who pledged illegally and died, has done enormous things nationally to try to change the culture, so has Sigma Alpha Epsilon. But Sigma Alpha Epsilon's hands are tied in terms of trying to get dry houses because the undergraduates at the summer vote to keep the alcohol. People who are not old enough to drink dictate the direction of the fraternity. There's your problem right there.
ROBERTSNo. I need to go to some of our callers here. Mitch in Winston-Salem, N.C., welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MITCHHey, thank you very much for taking my call. I just have a couple of things I want to say. The first of which is that I was a fraternity member at the University of Miami. I was also a member of the executive board. During my first semester there, I was part of the pledge class. I did participate in what you all are defining as hazing. That was my best semester, by far, at the university. I did more sit-ups, did more push-ups than I ever thought was humanly possible.
MITCHA little bit sleep deprived, but we also had study hours and then making a 4.0 GPA. The best 10 friends that I made in college were made during that time period. I was also much tighter in my fraternity when I was there. Second point I want to make is that, as a member of the executive board for the next three years, we had to eliminate hazing because a lot of the other chapters on our campus got in trouble. We did not.
MITCHBut what we found when we eliminated the hazing was that there was a lack of discipline in the fraternity. And, actually, when there was no sort of accountability or responsibility or any sort of expectation set early on for the way a fraternity man is supposed to be, we sort of lost our attraction to the center, what we all came there to be. And then the fraternity ended up getting in trouble after I left because of that lack of discipline.
MITCHSo I understand that when people die, it's not acceptable. That's -- if that's what you consider hazing, you know, people drinking to death or being worked out to death, whatever the case may be, I completely agree with that. However, there are some forms of discipline or initiation that you consider hazing that are extremely beneficial, and I am one example of that.
ROBERTSMitch, thanks very much for your call. Susan Lipkins, your response.
LIPKINSYeah. That's what we hear over and over again, that, you know, thousands of people get hazed every single day. Most of them do not get hurt. Some of them have wonderful experiences and feel that, you know, this is the best part of their life. And I've spoken to presidents of colleges and said it was the best part of their life. So, you know, it's really hard to be an anti-hazing advocate because there are so many people who've had a good experience.
LIPKINSBut we could say that about alcohol. Lots of people like to drink alcohol, but there's a whole bunch of alcoholics out there and binge drinkers. And, you know, among college students as well as adults, you know, that there are harmful effects. So we can't ban alcohol, and we're not going to ban hazing. It's not going to work. But we have to pay attention to it, and I agree with the caller that it has a lot to do with supervision. Who's driving? Who's watching? You know, who's in control? And that's the problem.
ROBERTSLet me turn to Eduardo in South Florida. Thank you, Eduardo for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
EDUARDOOh, it's my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me on. I'd like to share my experience as a social scientist and a recent graduate from a large Florida University. I've noticed a lot that while on campus in the younger years and some of the freshmen coming on to campus that it's more so about a culture that's created around acceptance and people wanting to be a part of a group and not so much -- not as much just being accepted with a fraternity, but any social group.
EDUARDOAnd I've seen this spread across into binge drinking and other unhealthy activities that I think are -- would warrant attention, and I'd like to see if any of your panel here would have any comments to expand on it.
ROBERTSThank you very much. Sara.
LIPKAI think some of the tensions here are things that Cornell is trying to get at in its ban on pledging that there are positive rights of initiation that can develop discipline, that can develop brotherhood or sisterhood and leadership and character that wouldn't qualify as hazing. And so, you know, Cornell is trying to take the lead there in finding some of those answers. What would those practices look like to develop those qualities without humiliating people or degrading people or injuring them emotionally or physically?
ROBERTSUnderstanding that there are -- as Mitch, our first caller said, there are benefits to the experience, but there's also the risks and how do you maximize the benefits and minimize the risk, which a lot of people are trying to do. A number of callers want to get in on this conversation. And let's turn to Maria in Washington. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARIAHi. I just wanted to comment. I'm active-duty military. I've been in for 15 years, and hazing used to be a big problem. I'm not saying that it's completely eliminated from the military, but I think that it's probably a good model that the group could reach out to as far as how they can, you know, stop the negative aspects but still build up those positive things. We have the chief's call to initiation asserting there's zero tolerance for hazing.
MARIABut, you know, in a hierarchical organization as the military is, it's so important to have that morale (unintelligible) makes your people feel like they're part of the group. And I was wondering if they've reached out to military to get guidance of how we try to eliminate negative aspects.
ROBERTSMaria, thanks for that perspective. We appreciate. Hank Nuwer, what's your answer?
NUWERI have written about this for American Legion. One of the issues, which is very good -- every good thing being accompanied by trouble -- is that, yes, the military is really on it with all the hazing. But we have seen an issue where a young man was nearly killed with a mallet, hit in the chest just two weeks ago, a video that's going viral. We've had the death of Danny Chen and...
ROBERTSI want to ask if you could respond to the -- what are some of the things that the military is doing that you feel have been constructive in terms of finding...
NUWERThe constructive would be the edicts from the top, the chain of command taking responsibility. That didn't happen before.
ROBERTSOK. Great. Let's talk to Ben in Dallas, Texas. Ben, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome.
BENHey, Steve. Thanks for taking my call.
BENI just want to talk about -- your expert mentioned that hazing is ubiquitous basically across the world and every part of society. And I would argue that it's probably been going on since groups have been formed in the world. It's you know, been going out throughout time, and it's probably a deep-seated part of human nature. I was wondering if there really is anything you can do to really get it out of human nature and if there's really a whole lot of work to be done, I guess.
ROBERTSOK. Ben, thanks for that perspective. Susan Lipkins, what's your answer to Ben?
LIPKINSI agree with you. I think that it is part of human nature, and I think it's heightened because we're in what I call a vulture culture, where there's a lot of attention to competition. And as the resources reduce and competition increases, we see an increase in aggression and we see that in all areas of life, in bullying and in hazing as well. Are we going to change human nature? I don't think so. And is this part of groups and bonding and forming groups? Yes, I think it really is.
LIPKINSAnd that's why it's so hard to change the nature of how a group forms and what's important to it. The best we can do is create other systems, as the caller from the military said, that includes enough supervision so that we are civilized, and I think that that's what we're trying to do.
ROBERTSSusan, let me also -- on that very subject, we have an email from a caller from Birmingham, Ala. who's a university professor. He couldn't stay on the line, but he asked us, "What psychologically causes someone to do such harm to a friend?" We've touched on this, but this is on a lot of people's minds. You know, what happens to good people, and why do they turn bad in this situation?
LIPKINSRight. It's true. What happens is power. When you're given power -- and we've seen this in the Stanford Prison Experiment and other kinds of experiments, where when human beings are given power over another, that power can really go to their heads, so to speak. And they become wild, and they misuse it. So what happens is when you're a victim, you're a bystander. Now, you're the perpetrator. You use that power. And that power, they think they have the right and duty to pass on that tradition.
LIPKINSThey think they're doing something good. But they're using that power, and sometimes that power goes out of control. And often because it -- they themselves, the perpetrators are fueled by alcohol or drugs at the time that they're using their power. So they...
ROBERTSAnd that loosens the inhibitions and the restraints that might be there in another situation.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got time for a couple more callers. And Sarah in Ann Arbor, Mich., welcome. You live in the home of a great university. What's on your mind this morning?
SARAHOh, great. Thanks for taking my call. My daughter, when she was a freshman, had a roommate that was in the Michigan Marching Band. And she got hazed through a newsletter that they did on the bus and basically developed insomnia and then eventually dropped out of school, but not without taking my daughter, you know, as her roommate. My daughter said, Mom, what do I do? She keeps telling me, I can't -- she can't do anything about this. But it was really a horrific situation.
SARAHAnd then as a -- comparing it, my daughter was rowing for Michigan and had this wonderful experience without any hazing. So I think one thing -- I'd like to make a suggestion -- is that the RAs on dorm could do nothing to help my daughter trying to help this other woman, you know, her roommate get through this hazing experience. And I think one way you could help is really train the RAs to say, this is how you can deal with this stuff.
SARAHYou could have talked to these officials. It could have stopped immediately. As it went on week after week, it got worse and worse, and finally she had a breakdown so -- and had to go home. So...
ROBERTSThank you, Sarah. Sara Lipka, as a college teacher, I see this point that the role of roommates, the role of friends in these psychologically fragile situations could be very important and critical to dealing with these situations. What your response to the caller?
LIPKAI think more colleges are trying to do training around these issues. I think the traction of the anti-bullying movement has carried over a bit, as I said before, to this anti-hazing movement, and so there would be more training of students. Say, at a freshman orientation session, there would be a workshop about hazing, identifying it, what's it like.
LIPKAThere's also more of a push for colleges to do bystander intervention trainings so that these people, who are frequently the first line of defense against dangerous behaviors, roommates or RAs or professors or leaders of student groups, know how to identify dangerous practices and know what resources are available, you know, within the university mental health counseling and other places where students can turn with the problems.
ROBERTSSusan Lipkins, that sounds like an important dimension of what can be done positively to deal with this situation.
LIPKINSYeah, I think it is, and I think what we have to do is also break the code of silence so that kids will report and they will use, you know, different systems that the university has to create or the high school has to create to get the person who is in need and in trouble or being hazed to the proper authorities. And there has to be a system. We have many systems available, anonymous systems for reporting.
LIPKINSAnd that there is -- are, like, I call them crisis intervention specialists at night and in the weekends that are available to these kids who are, you know, very vulnerable 'cause I think it's -- you have, like, 36 hours after the time of a crisis that people will be open and actually tell you what's going on. So you have to have, like, 24/7 staffing.
ROBERTSAnd the role of roommates can often be the early warning system. They're the ones who -- that someone confides in. And if they know what they're doing and have access to resources, they can be very helpful.
ROBERTSThat's going to have to be the final word from Susan Lipkins. She is a psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y. Hank Nuwer has been on the line with us. He's author of several books on hazing and also an associate professor of journalism at Franklin College in Indiana. Sara Lipka of The Chronicle of Higher Education, who covers these issues for The Chronicle.
ROBERTSAnd I also want to thank again Dr. David Skorton, president of Cornell, who is leading an anti-hazing campaign at Cornell who was on the line with us earlier this morning. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Thanks so much for spending an hour of your morning with us.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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