History of College Hazing

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Broadly defined, hazing is an initiation ritual that involves strenuous and often humiliating or embarrassing tasks. In practice, hazing can vary dramatically—from the silly to the outright dangerous. Colleges and universities throughout the United States are working to eliminate hazing as there have been too many cases of psychological harms, physical injuries, and even fatalities.  

Hazing has a Long History 

The concept of hazing can be traced back for millennia. While hazing is often associated with fraternities and sororities, there is evidence that the Greek philosopher Plato criticized the tradition—which was known as “pennalism” at the time. Initiation rituals of humiliation and abuse also have a long history at American colleges. In 1684, a Havard student named Joseph Webb was expelled from school for “hitting freshman” and “making them perform acts of servitude.”

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Modern College Hazing Entered the Public Conception After World War II

Although hazing has occurred throughout the entire history of the U.S. college system, the modern conception of hazing entered the public consciousness in the aftermath of World War II. In 1959, Richard Swanson, a 21-year-old student at the University of Southern California (USC), was killed in a hazing incident while pledging to the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Tragically, he choked to death while trying to eat a quarter pound chunk of raw liver that was soaked in oil. The story received national attention as the fraternity brothers initially tried to conceal that the incident was related to hazing. 

A Strong Crackdown on Hazing By U.S. Colleges

Over the last few decades, U.S. colleges and universities have started to crackdown on hazing, both in the traditional Greek life system and on collegiate-associated sports teams. In January of 2000, the University of Vermont (UVM) cancelled the remainder of its hockey season following a serious hazing incident that involved sexual misconduct. At the time, UVM was one of the top college hockey teams in the entire country. Notably, investigators determined that the school failed to properly handle the matter. 

Hazing Remains a Problem On College Campuses

While hazing has received a considerable amount of attention in recent years, it remains an issue on American campuses. One of the highest profile incidents led to the death of Tim Piazza, a student at a Penn State fraternity. As reported by The Atlantic, his fraternity brothers waited 12 hours before calling 911 for medical attention—but by then it was too late. Given the history, college and university administrators across the country are taking harsh action against students accused of hazing. Suspensions and expulsions are becoming increasingly common penalties in hazing cases. 

Get Help From a College Code Violation Attorney

College & university hazing cases can be complicated. Whether you or your child was the victim of hazing or accused of hazing, you do not have to navigate the legal process alone. If you have any specific questions or concerns about hazing in college, an experienced college hazing lawyer will protect your rights and help you determine the best course of action. 

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