All Nikki wanted was to be accepted, to be part
of her high school. Early in her second year, Nikki was excited
to learn that she'd made the cut for a long- standing tradition
known as the "Sophomore Kidnap."
As Saturday night approached, she was anxious.
Everybody was talking about it and making her feel like she'd
soon be a member of the popular crowd.
The evening began innocently enough. She and
some of her classmates were made to sing childish songs in
public like "I'm a little teapot, short and stout." Everybody
laughed. Later, they slid down a hill with raw eggs in their
mouths. It was all in good fun, nothing too serious. Then
things took a turn for the worse.
They found themselves surrounded by about 100
drunken seniors. It happened so fast, they felt trapped. Nikki
and her fellow sophomores were on the ground in the middle
of the circle. That's when it beganboys urinating on
them, others dumping dye into their hair, and to top it off,
they were made to roll around over broken glass.
Would you call this harmless horseplay or a
humiliating and potentially dangerous act of hazing?
This Youth Update will help you answer
that very question. In the process, you'll take a look at
what hazing is and how to distinguish it from other forms
of bonding and initiation, why people engage in it, how to
respond if you're ever faced with the situation and what connection
(or disconnection!) it has to your faith relationship with
Jesus and others.
Not So Rare
Whenever hazing is first brought up, you probably
think of college or some branch of our military forces. Who
hasn't heard a story of the fraternity or sorority party where
the new pledge is judged to be worthy of admittance depending
on how much beer he or she drinks? Or maybe you cringed when
the evening news reported soldiers having medals literally
pinned to their bare chests by superiors after completing
This type of behavior, though, is hitting a
lot closer to home than it ever has before. Not only in number,
but also in severity, high schools are becoming fertile ground
In a recently released national study on hazing
by New York's Alfred University, the conclusion was reached
that hazing is a common reality in the life of high school
students, affecting nearly two million teenagers. The study
defines hazing as "any humiliating or dangerous activity expected
of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to
With over 90 percent of those studied belonging
to one or more group activities, 48 percent said they'd experienced
some form of hazing. While many students had only positive
things to say about their group activity, 43 percent felt
they were subjected to some embarrassing or humiliating action.
Some 30 percent also felt they performed an illegal act in
Even groups you'd think are free of hazing,
like church youth groups, are not immune. They were reported
to have almost a quarter of their members involved in some
way or another.
Of all the activities reporting hazing, athletics
leads the way with close to 35 percent of participants claiming
to have been hazed. Hazing in women's sports has not been
as predictable. Yet, over the past few years, in sports ranging
from cheerleading to softball, soccer to gymnastics, young
women are catching up with their male counterparts.
In athletics especially, peer pressure and the
need for team unity can come together with tragic results.
So rather than receive the game ball after a well-deserved
win or a varsity letter at the end of a successful season,
some young men and women are given painful memories that last
A dramatic case in point happened recently in
a New England high school. Like any other 15-year-old, first-year
wrestler, this particular teen fully expected to have to prove
himself to his teammates. He was unprepared, however, for
how far that would go.
At first hazing consisted of being locked in
his locker and later spat upon. This was humiliating, but
nothing he couldn't get over, he figured. After he endured
this for nearly a month, it got worse. One day before practice
he was grabbed by two seniors. With the help of other teammates,
they bound him with athletic tape. After that they started
to hit his back with a plastic knife, causing it to swell
up and bruise.
To top it off, the first-year wrestler was placed
on a dolly (a device used to roll mats) and pushed into a
wall where he suffered a knee injury. The next day he told
the principal of the brutality that he'd faced.
How easily these hazing teens forgot the creation
story of Genesis! In that biblical story, much is made of
humans being formed in the image and likeness of God. The
story of Adam and Eve, with its promises of power and control,
sounds appealing and possible.
Genesis is a positive message of the great dignity
you share with your class and your teammates. Hazing turns
you from participators in the power of God the creator to
imitators of the clever serpent.
One of the creation story's central truths is
that men and women are created in the image of God. Hazing
takes "a big bite out of the apple." You participate in the
misuse of power and leadership. You become dangerous and disrespectful
of human dignity.
Part of the problem surrounding hazing is to
understand when it becomes that. In response to any number
of activitiesbeing drenched with beer and shaving cream,
told to lick other students' feet, paddled hard enough to
leave bruises, placing Icy Hot on private parts, giving wedgies,
getting dropped off in remote and unknown areasmany
people will say, "We were just having fun. It was meant to
draw us closer together." Another popular reply is, "Boys
will be boys." Such answers indicate the difficulty and confusion
many high school students have distinguishing between what
is fun and what is hazing.
According to Hank Nuwer, author of High School
Hazing: When Rites Become Wrongs, hazing takes two forms
which include both physical and mental aspects. The first
type has veteran team or group members "test" new members
by treating them harshly, shunning and ridiculing them. If
these tests are passed, the prospective member is accepted
fully by the team.
Commenting on his experience in soccer, one
young man said, "I pretty much couldn't do anything about
it. After going through it and becoming a member of the team,
it was almost an honor in a weird way."
The second type of hazing puts the commitment
of younger team members on the line. The aim is to get new
players to show their loyalty to the team.
In the end, Nuwer explains, "these hazing activities
force the newcomer to display conformity. Those who are hazed
lose power; those who haze regain lost power by exercising
authority over others." Here the Golden Rule of "Do unto others
as you would have them do unto you" takes a rather ironic
The issue of participation is confusing for
teens as well as parents. Many ask, "How can someone get in
trouble if the other person consented?" Common to hazing is
the experience that most things don't end up going according
to plan or that those being hazed only know half the story.
Being new to the gymnastics team, Lizzie was
aware of some of the things she'd have to do to be considered
a member of the team. After a night of silly and harmless
rituals, Lizzie thought they were heading back to a teammate's
house for a sleepover. That's what the older members had told
Instead, Lizzie and her younger teammates were
taken to a parking lot and told to eat bananas out of the
pants of older boys. Afraid and confused, she did as they
told her. This is what Nuwer calls the "tradition of deceit."
Nuwer writes, "Nearly all acts of hazing involve
deception. Hazers lie all the time to newcomers. First they
lie about the severity of the hazing, which is intended to
build fear in the initiate. Then as newcomers invest more
and more as the initiation process nears an end, hazing escalates,
always remaining a secret. Hazers also lie to one another,
to adults and to themselves to rationalize that the brutal
practices build group unity."
Pain of Fitting In
High school can be a very lonely place. Whether
you're looking ahead as an eighth-grader, as the new, anxious
kid on the block as a freshman or as the confident campus
senior, you want to be accepted and liked by your peers. The
usual way this social need is developed and expressed in high
school is by joining teams and engaging in other extracurricular
All of these groupssports teams, mock
trial, chess club, student council, bandwant new members.
It's not enough to be physically present, though. Groups want
to communicate what it means to be a member. This usually
takes place during an initiation.
Some initiations or orientations might appear
rather taxing and time-consuming, while other groups may welcome
you with little or no obligations. The word initiation
appears in the now-common Catholic practice of RCIARite
of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA requires a mature
commitment to a long-term learning process. It is an involving
process concluding with an initiation that is not hazing.
Such an initiation gives you a sense of Church
(team, school) ownership. Through a positive, informative
initiation, you will know not only the opportunities possible
through whatever group it is, but also the responsibilities
they have in mind for you.
Sometimes, however, initiation may degrade into
hazing. Dares will be made. People will be intimidated and
filled with fear. Alcohol and drug use will be encouraged.
Peoples' team or group membership will be put on the line.
Why? The Alfred University study offers several reasons.