Hazing is nothing new. The action of hazing — broadly defined as any activity that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers any individual being initiated into a group — has existed for centuries. Yet, it remains today as one of the prevalent problems among universities throughout the country.
Far from disappearing, hazing-related incidents during pledging and initiation events have caused the death of at least one college student each year since 1970. According to www.stophazing.org, more than half of all college students involved in a club, team or organization experience or have experienced hazing.
According to university president Dr. Jim Borsig, the Mississippi University for Women has not been an exception to this trend.
“In 2012 when I got here, I was warned by the number of hazing allegations for such a small campus,” Borsig said.
He also related an instance in which two parents, alums from the W, approached him and asked if their children would be subjected to the same hazing they were subjected to during their time at the school.
Moved by this and other events, Borsig has spearheaded the W’s efforts to eliminate all instances of hazing on campus as part of a comprehensive initiative that also includes actions against sexual assault, harassment, stalking, domestic violence and bullying.
“It’s about respect for individuals. There are no second class citizens on this campus,” said Borsig. “New members, initiated members, everyone should be treated the same way, here and across the country. If any one of us gets treated any differently, then all of us are diminished by it.”
As part of the process against hazing, the university has launched an educational process aimed at educating students — particularly those belonging to social clubs and Greek organizations — about university policy and how to recognize hazing and the dangers it represents.
The W has also taken steps to renew and update the university’s anti-hazing policies to match evolving national standards and public expectations by reevaluating procedures and interpretations. Borsig said that these days most universities across the country are taking a zero tolerance stance against hazing.
“There are things that were acceptable when I was in college 40 years ago that people would probably go to jail for today,” said Borsig. “Same thing 10 years ago, five years ago. We need to preserve traditions while eliminating aspects that are not fit for the 21st century.”
An example of these efforts was the recent elimination of scavenger hunts by the university. An amendment to the hazing policy now specifically prohibits the activity and recognizes it as hazing and a danger to student wellbeing.
The issue, however, is not as clear for some students. Bryn Bailey, a junior double-majoring in political science and legal studies, doesn’t think hazing is as prevalent a problem on campus as others claim it to be.
“I am part of several organizations where hazing has always been possible, and I’ve never experienced anyone being hazed on campus,” she said.
Bailey, president of the Gay-Straight alliance and an active member of the Mam'selle social club, does however agree, and she participates in the educational initiatives taken by the university.
“We talk about it often, especially before we start pledging in the fall,” said Bailey. “We talk about what is hazing and to recognize to make sure that no member, purposely or inadvertently hazes another person. We require every member of our organization to attend the workshops on hazing.”
Ultimately, it all falls to the students. According to Borsig, the best way to prevent hazing and other injustices is through bystander intervention. He encourages every student to report all policy violations and to come forward about any allegations. He also points to the numbers. In the last three years since his anti-hazing efforts began club membership has remained strong, with an increase in recruitment of about 30 percent.
During the spring faculty convocation, Borsig said that the university must find ways to reduce risk to students, and that he will continue to engage students and force them to think critically about this subject. He said that his “aggressive effort against bullying and hazing” has been perceived by some as an effort to root out and end social clubs on campus. However, he said that is not his purpose. Instead, he said he is committed to protecting students.
“The majority of organizations have stepped up, and I am very pleased with the response,” said Borsig. “The goal here is to have what I said from the very first day on campus, a safe and ethical community.”
Borsig also said in his spring convocation remarks that he is open to considering the publication of the names of student organizations when alleged hazing occurs. That is not current university policy, but he said it should be considered.