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Marybeth Gasman

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Getting at the Root of Hazing: Will Florida A&M University (FAMU) Lead the Way?

Posted: 09/25/2012 2:40 pm

Florida A&M University (FAMU) recently announced an anti-hazing policy in an attempt to combat past hazing that has taken place on its campus. As of Spring 2013, all FAMU students will be required to sign the anti-hazing policy in order to register for classes. Those who do not sign the policy will not be able to attend FAMU. The policy outlaws hazing in all of its manifestations.

At the same time that interim president Larry Robinson announced this new policy, FAMU experienced yet another hazing incident. The institution's all female Torque dance team was accused of hazing by a parent and Robinson immediately suspended the group. Along with the policy, FAMU is launching an anti-hazing website -- stophazingfamu.com. It seems that the institution and its president are serious in their fight against hazing. Of note, the policy was student-driven and later adopted by the administration. This process is also promising.

But, when I think about anti-hazing policies, I immediately wonder if they will work. Is an anti-hazing policy merely putting a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem? Perhaps these policies are a start, but college administrators need to get at the root of the problem. I recommend a variety of tactics.

First, student life professionals and student leaders must focus on increasing self-esteem among college students, beginning with new students upon their campus arrival. Having higher levels of self-esteem leads to braver student who are willing to stand up for their own self-worth. High self-esteem also means that a student is less likely to haze as their self-worth is tied to internal characteristics rather than their power over another person. Students need to understand the value of individuality and their own unique contributions rather than holding on to a follower mentality.

Second, campus administrators and students must immediately confront all hazing. In FAMU's case, this seems to be the interim president's approach. Students (and alumni) need to know that hazing in any form will not be tolerated.

Third, student life professionals and student leaders must work together to teach students about the value and dignity of human life. Too often, young people feel invincible and do not realize the fragility of life.

Fourth, campus administrators and student leaders need to have serious conversations with those students and alumni that feel that hazing is linked to tradition. Reinforcing and perpetuating brutality merely mimics and feeds into the history of brutality against various cultures in the United States.

Fifth, campus administrators need to have serious conversations with alumni of fraternities, sororities, marching bands, and any other club known for hazing. Often alumni help perpetuate hazing, ridiculing students who are not hazed 'enough' and questioning the students' "authenticity" in the organization. All too often, I've had a member of a fraternity tell me "I've never been hazed" while smirking because he knew he had been hazed and knew that he hazed others. Beating a person or forcing him to exercise or drink until he is hospitalized does not make someone powerful; the powerful person stands up for those in need and for those who don't have power. We need to teach students these lessons.

Sixth, student life administrators and student leaders need to ask the difficult questions to students that haze. What's missing in their lives? How does hazing make them feel about themselves and others? There is a deep problem here and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to ask questions and listen carefully. Of note, when asking students these questions, it is important that the person doing the asking is a member or someone young enough to still be able to relate to the daily lives of students.

I applaud FAMU for their efforts -- the policy, the website, and the future town hall on hazing. Given the history of hazing at the Florida institution, it is vital that it be out front on this issue and lead the way for other colleges and universities that have remained silent for too long and worse yet, covered up hazing. However, as leaders, FAMU's administrators have to do more than take hazing seriously. They can't merely punish and suspend those who haze, they have to dig deep and get at the societal factors that lead a person to abuse, beat, or even cause the death of another person within a group. They need to get at the societal factors that lead a person to allow others to abuse them. FAMU has the potential to be out in front, leading on these important issues that have an impact on many college students everyday.

Beyond FAMU, campus leaders at colleges and universities across the nation must take a stand and not succumb to pressure from those who advocate, advance, and perpetuate hazing. They need to remember that their role is to educate students and to be responsible for their welfare while on campus. Turning a blind eye is unconscionable.

 
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