Haz­ing has long his­tory, based on power, sta­tus

Penticton Herald - - LIFE - By SH­ERYL UBELACKER

TORONTO — It’s been called a rite of pas­sage, a bond­ing rit­ual, a way to ini­ti­ate novice mem­bers into a fra­ter­nity, elite sports team or mil­i­tary unit through phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges — with the aim of in­di­vid­u­als be­com­ing ce­mented into the whole.

But haz­ing can have a sin­is­ter side in­volv­ing phys­i­cal or sex­ual abuse and emo­tional trauma that, for some, can leave deep psy­cho­log­i­cal scars. It’s also led to hun­dreds of deaths when typ­i­cally al­co­hol-fu­elled in­doc­tri­nat­ing pranks go un­ex­pect­edly and hor­ri­bly wrong.

So how did the prac­tice be­gin and why does it con­tinue, de­spite a bur­geon­ing num­ber of anti-haz­ing poli­cies put in place by uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, within the mil­i­tary and among sports or­ga­ni­za­tions? And how can it be stopped?

Ex­perts say haz­ing is as old as an­tiq­uity, re­port­edly prac­tised in the time of Plato, re­ferred to by Saint Au­gus­tine in his Con­fes­sions, and pro­moted by Martin Luther as a means of pre­par­ing stu­dents for the vi­cis­si­tudes of life.

“Haz­ing in many ways is not one be­hav­iour, it’s a set of in­ter­re­lated be­hav­iours,” ex­plained Michael Atkin­son, a pro­fes­sor of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Toronto, who trained as a so­ci­ol­o­gist.

Be­sides re­quir­ing new­bies to prove their worth for group mem­ber­ship with feats of phys­i­cal en­durance, for in­stance, haz­ing rit­u­als also have strong psy­choso­cial com­po­nents, he said.

“It’s psy­cho­log­i­cal in the sense that it’s meant to in­tim­i­date, de­grade peo­ple in some way, shame them, em­bar­rass them in front of oth­ers. It’s so­cial in the sense that it clearly es­tab­lishes power in hi­er­ar­chies in a group, and it es­tab­lishes a place for peo­ple within the group.”

And the more es­o­teric the group — an elite ju­nior hockey team, for in­stance, or a high-sta­tus Greek-let­ter fra­ter­nity or soror­ity — “the greater the risk of an ex­treme form of haz­ing that will re­sult,” Atkin­son said.

That ap­peared to be the case at St. Michael’s Col­lege School, a pri­vate boys school in Toronto, where six stu­dents aged 14 and 15 were charged last month with as­sault, gang as­sault and sex­ual as­sault with a weapon. The charges fol­lowed an in­ci­dent in which some mem­bers of the school’s foot­ball team al­legedly sodom­ized an­other stu­dent with a broom han­dle.

Just over a week later, four 15-year-old Mary­land high school stu­dents were charged as adults with first-de­gree rape in a locker room at­tack, and now face life in prison if con­victed. A fifth teen was charged as a ju­ve­nile with se­cond-de­gree rape. The charges re­late to an Oc­to­ber in­ci­dent in which four 14-year-olds had their pants pulled down and were al­legedly as­saulted with a broom stick.

About 200 haz­ing-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties in males have oc­curred in North Amer­ica alone since the first half of the 19th cen­tury, said Hank Nuwer, a pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Franklin Col­lege, Ind., who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about haz­ing.

“If we count Canada, there’s been a death ev­ery year in ei­ther the U.S., Mex­ico or Canada from 1959 to 2018,” he said, not­ing that the first recorded haz­ing fa­tal­ity within a U.S. fra­ter­nity took place at Cor­nell Univer­sity in 1873.

“It’s all about sta­tus and power,” said Nuwer, whose lat­est book on the sub­ject is en­ti­tled Haz­ing: De­stroy­ing Young Lives. “A big part of it sim­ply is im­i­ta­tion. It’s what they see in Hol­ly­wood movies, what they see on YouTube ini­ti­a­tions, and it’s re­ally con­sis­tently a bad prac­tice.”

But why in the #MeToo era do those who are tar­gets of haz­ing put up with be­ing abused?

“It fits in with the idea of power, it’s what makes it so in­sid­i­ous,” said Atkin­son. “It’s the idea that ‘I jeop­ar­dize ev­ery­thing if I say no.’

“If I say no, I’m done. They’ll os­tra­cize me. I might be in­cluded be­cause the coach says I have to be in­cluded, but I will be a pariah on the team.”

And many of those who sub­mit to haz­ing be­lieve no one in au­thor­ity would do any­thing to stop the prac­tice, he said.

That no­tion was borne out re­cently by for­mer NHLer Daniel Car­cillo, who ex­pe­ri­enced haz­ing with other rookie mem­bers of the OHL’s Sar­nia Sting 15 years ago. He re­called a team­mate be­ing stripped naked and whipped with his own belt by two vet­eran play­ers.

The teen’s screams brought the coach out of his of­fice, who gave the tied-down rookie a slap of his own.

“The men­tal­ity al­ways is, es­pe­cially in sport, that it’s only sport,” said Atkin­son. “That’s how it’s re­pro­duced over the course of time.”

For Car­cillo and oth­ers who en­dured haz­ings, hear­ing re­ports about what oc­curred at St. Michael’s Col­lege School and else­where can re­open psy­cho­log­i­cal wounds, said Nuwer, who cited the case of a South Dakota man whose high school sports team had forced him to pa­rade around with a jock­strap over his head as part of his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

The man, who was now in his 70s, tracked down his prime abuser and shot him point-blank when he opened the door, he said. “So there was a homi­cide.”

While some ini­ti­a­tion rit­u­als may be rel­a­tively mild, those that in­volve phys­i­cal or sex­ual abuse take haz­ing to a en­tirely dif­fer­ent level.

“They now have started look­ing at it for what it is — it’s a crim­i­nal act,” said Atkin­son.

Stop­ping haz­ing means en­act­ing ze­ro­tol­er­ance poli­cies on cam­puses, within sports teams, the mil­i­tary and for any other group that views mem­ber­ship as a hard-won prize open only to a se­lect few.

That means mon­i­tor­ing by par­ents, coaches and ad­min­is­tra­tors. “If it means shut­ting down pro­grams as ex­am­ples, then so be it,” he said.

Bond­ing doesn’t have to mean re­in­forc­ing po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous hi­er­ar­chies.

“You go on re­treats, you do com­mu­nity-based ac­tiv­i­ties. There’s a mil­lion ways in which you could get a group of young men and young women to­gether as a way of so­lid­i­fy­ing their col­lec­tive iden­tity.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Pro hockey player Daniel Car­cillo spoke out re­cently about his ex­pe­ri­ence with haz­ing while a mem­ber of the OHL’s Sar­nia Sting, de­tail­ing how he feels Canada’s hockey cul­ture needs to change.

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