The conversation about hazing is bigger than itself

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Hazing at university exists as more than just an event or aggressive act — it’s part of a culture that normalizes it.

In an article in The Globe and Mail, Margery Holman, associate professor emeritus at the University of Windsor, explores the reasons behind hazing. According to her, it comes down to one thing: “Hazers do it because they can.”

To combat the prevalence of hazing in student communities, what universities need isn’t just a no-tolerance policy, the one-size-fits-all solution Holman suggests — what universities need is a frank and open conversation.

Defining hazing as any one thing is difficult. By trying to encapsulate hazing under one definition, it’s easy to leave out the bigger picture.

Holman’s article uses the example of a student who “was forced to drink multiple shots of liquor with a pillowcase over his head.” While it seems clear that this example is hazing, the lines leading up to it, which are eventually crossed, aren’t always easy to detect.

When traditions of initiation so often include alcohol and partying, there’s a large grey area between what people know and agree is hazing and what people can justify as just a celebration or initiation.

As we saw in the TAPs incident last semester labelled as hazing by the AMS, those who may participate in hazing practices often aren’t doing so out of malicious intent but because it’s part of a normalized culture. And responding to instances of hazing by demonizing drinking doesn’t help anyone — it further alienates productive conversation and unnecessarily condemns what can be a normal part of university life. 

However, while students often don’t intend to cause harm with hazing and villainizing drinking isn’t the answer, it has a wide-reaching impact on students.

Hazing isn’t just a policy problem, it’s a cultural problem. The conversation around it, therefore, needs to shift to encompass that breadth.

The culture that normalizes hazing can cause students to feel as though they need to participate in things they don’t want to do just to belong in the community. While drinking, partying and initiation rituals are valid and people can participate, we should always be able to choose not to, without feeling isolated.

An issue with so much grey area is a lot harder to tackle than something that seems black and white.

The way forward isn’t just about not tolerating hazing, in order to ban something, we need to know what we’re banning. 

 

—  Journal Editorial Board 

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