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Eyes Opening to Hazards of Hazing

Opacity / Flickr

A string of high profile hazing scandals had made the news recently.

Last week charges were filed against members of the Florida A & M Marching Band in the hazing death of a former member.

In April, police found 5 Boston University students bound and beaten in a fraternity house basement.

Rolling Stone profiled a Dartmouth College student’s humiliating experiences, a school long associated with excessive hazing.

But New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports all of this attention may be a good thing.

Dan Gorenstein (DG): It was an early October night back in 2006.

Dartmouth College sophomore Ravi Segal was leaving the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house.

Blindfolded, she and several other pledges were led to a waiting car.

Segal: “We started driving and I was handed a 64 oz. Water bottle that was filled with an alcoholic punch, and told to chug it. And simultaneously I was handed vodka shots from the front of the car.”

DG: The 19 year old was 5’1, 125 lbs.

Segal: “My next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit with bruises, cuts on my body, my teeth were broken.”

DG: Segal’s blood alcohol level that morning was .399 - a breath away from a lethal limit.

Segal: “There were 3 of us in the back of the car. All three of us ended up in the hospital.”

DG: Dartmouth says since 2010, it’s sanctioned several student groups for hazing and is set to launch a task force in the coming weeks.

But stories like Segal’s - and worse - aren’t uncommon.

A professor at Franklin College in Indiana has kept a running tab on hazing-related deaths.

Since 1970 there’s been at least 112.

The accepted definition of ‘hazing’ is something that humiliates, abuses, or endangers a person joining or participating in a group, even if that person consents.

Lipkins: “This is happening across the country on a daily basis.”

DG: That’s Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who serves as an expert witness in court cases and speaks on the issue.

Lipkins: “We’ve heard of girls they’ve been nude and their bodies are circled and people write ‘ugly’ or ‘fat’ or whatever across them.”

DG: In the last 10 years Lipkins thinks hazing is getting worse...more humiliating, more sexualized, more violent.

Lipkins: “You see it from year to year, you know because the kids will tell me, ‘well, last year, I had to eat mealy worms. But this year I wanted to make it a little bit worse, so I added cracked glass.’”

DG: There’s no definitive data to determine whether hazing is on the rise or even if it’s getting more dangerous.

What we do know is more than half of students who belong to student groups participated in some kind of hazing ritual.

That’s according to a 2008 report from the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention at the University of Maine.

Professor Mary Madden says the research also smashed the long-held stereotype that hazing is confined to sports teams and the Greeks.

Madden: “When your child joins an honor society at their college, you would not really be concerned that they were going to be hazed.”

DG: Yes, even honor societies have forced people to carry heavy backpacks.

Madden says understanding the breadth has made it easier to talk about...less taboo.

And she says that’s helped school administrators take hazing more seriously.

Madden: “When you would see people and they would ask, what you were working on and you would tell them hazing, and this is not even 10 years ago for me, and they would kind of laugh and say ‘oh, yeah. I heard this story.’ And they would relate something they thought was funny. I don’t get that as much anymore.”

DG: Madden says actually attention focused on bullying has allowed adults to see the risks and harm that comes from hazing.

Brian Strahine still remembers the time he and his Delta Upsilon brothers at Cornell put pledges through a grueling spring night.

They dressed up, got drunk, swam in a lake and then came back to the house basement.

Strahine noticed one particularly ill looking pledge slumped over the couch.

Strahine: “He was struggling. And actually I remember a senior telling me that he was a pre-med major. And he knew how to handle the situation.”

DG: As fraternity president, Strahine overruled the senior and had someone take the sick pledge to the E.R.

Strahine says did the best he could to look out for the guys but even as the hazing continued into the early hours, he didn’t put an end to it.

Strahine: “The whole night, I just felt uncomfortable. I felt sick to my stomach. I was angry.”

DG: To this day, Strahine continues to feel complicit.

Strahine: “I would give anything to meet with them again and apologize. I would have nothing else to say other than that I am deeply and terribly sorry. And I’m ashamed of the things that I did.”

DG: Strahine – who today speaks on college campuses about his experiences – knows a lot of people revere nights that he just described.

Defining moments...when someone believes they became a man.

Strahine says he can’t relate.

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