Understanding Hazing

Students at Hit the Bricks for Brian event
“55% of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.” National Hazing Study

Hazing can be difficult to define. Depending on where you are, there are different laws and polices. All definitions share these common factors:

  • Power differential between those in a group and those who want to join a group (such as rookies on a team or new or potential members of an organization).
  • Power differential between older and newer members of a group (such as the difference between senior and sophomore members of a fraternity or sorority).
  • Intentional initiation rites, practices or ‘traditions’ involved. Oftentimes hazing occurs when that ‘tradition’ is illegal, against university policy or conducted without the approval of advisors and/or university officials.
  • Willingness to participate does not absolve responsibility for either party. Less experienced members of an organization often do not feel empowered to say no, even though they do not want to take part in hazing activities.
  • 69% of students participating in student activities reported awareness of hazing activities occurring in student organizations other than their own.
  • 47% of students coming to college have experienced hazing.

Continuum of Hazing

Hazing activities vary in severity and exist along a continuum. At one end are initiation and group-building activities that do not constitute hazing. At the other end are severe forms of hazing that can result in psychological trauma, permanent injury, or death. In between there are a range of activities that might be considered low to moderate-level hazing.

Below are a few important concepts related to the continuum of hazing.

The Reasonable Person Standard

Where a given activity falls on the continuum is not simply a function of what the act looks like to an observer. That is because hazing impacts people differently. An action that one reasonable person might experience as mildly humiliating might be experienced by another reasonable person as severely humiliating. In other words, when hazing occurs there are objective and subjective realities, both of which matter when assessing the severity of that action.

The Vulnerability Standard

Certain individuals are more vulnerable to given acts of hazing, perhaps because of past experiences. For example, one fraternity required new members to stand in a barrel while having eggs thrown at them. Objectively, a reasonable person might describe this as a very humiliating act. But the act could also be emotionally re-traumatizing for a survivor who has a history of past violence. A less obvious example involves participation in study hours. If a rookie with a learning disability, who has demonstrated academic improvement when participating in one-on-one study sessions, is forced to attend group study sessions against their will, that student is at risk for a disrupted academic experience.

The Gray Zone

Some people find it difficult to determine when a given activity crosses over into hazing. If you are unsure whether an activity constitutes hazing, start by examining it in light of Wake Forest University’s definition. You can also ask yourself a few questions:

  • Would you hesitate to describe this activity to your parents or the police?
  • If a videotape of the activity was shown on the news, would you be concerned that the group would get in trouble?
  • Would the current members refuse to engage in the same activity?

If you answer affirmatively to any of these questions, there is a good chance that the activity is a form of hazing. If you are still unsure, you can use the report hazing page to assist you in providing information and asking questions about hazing.

Source: Cornell University

Or call the Hazing Hotline at 336.758.HAZE (4293)

Did You Know?

  • Hazing occurs in sports teams, clubs, Greek life, cheerleading, honor societies and more.
  • Hazing is often about power and control. Hazing does not build unity.
  • More than half of students in colleges and universities involved in clubs, sports teams and organizations have experienced hazing.
  • A significant number of hazing incidents and deaths involve alcohol consumption.
  • Students are more likely to be hazed if they knew an adult who was hazed.
  • 2 in 5 students say they are aware of hazing taking place on their campus.
  • Hazing occurs in middle schools, high schools and colleges.

Source: hazingprevention.org

Learn More: Hazing in the News


“Any activity that would subject the individual to embarrassment or humiliation in order to join a student organization”

“…any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”

Source: hazingprevention.org