A guest blog post by Linda Knight, Director of Campus Recreation and member of the board of directors of HazingPrevention.org, and organization dedicated to empower people to prevent hazing.
I few years ago W&M was sending a team to the Novak Institute for the Prevention of Hazing. Because I was in the process of hiring someone to oversee the sport club program, I decided I would attend the institute. As a college athlete myself, (granted that was quite a few years ago) we did some low level hazing but no one really talked about hazing at that time, we all thought it was just initiation. Whenever we did talk about hazing it was with reference to a fraternity or sorority doing something to their “pledges”. We now know that is a problem at all levels and organizations. As I sat through a very intensive institute, I thought about all the ways we could help our organizations make better choices, but was still having trouble getting the thought out of my head “are the things they are doing really that bad”. Then about halfway through the institute we had a guest speaker that talked about the hidden harms of hazing and I never asked that question again .
So what does the hidden harm of hazing really mean? For me the best way to think about it is: “we do not know what we do not know”. We do not know what is in someone’s past, whether it was something that happened to them, or someone they know. Most people or groups that haze others do not do it with the intention of causing them harm, they want to have an experience that makes the person feel like they have earned acceptance or bonded with their group. What the group often doesn’t think about is that they do not know someone’s past, and what is nothing to one person, can cause severe emotional or physical damage to another person. Thinking about doing something that seems like no big deal to me, such as getting in someone’s face and screaming, or making them dress a certain way, could take someone else to a very dark place in their life. That had such an impact on me that I have stayed involved in the prevention effort on campus as well as nationally. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and some of the activities that take place do not lend themselves to respect or dignity.
When asked to serve on the Board of Directors for HazingPrevetion.Org I said yes immediately. I wanted to help an organization that was mostly focusing on hazing with Fraternity and Sorority organizations see that is was a much bigger problem than just Greek organizations and that others were there to help with the prevention efforts. I also wanted to be able to share with them some of the successes we have had at William and Mary with our efforts.
I would love for there to be a time when we do not have to think about hazing prevention because it is no longer an issue. We are making a lot of progress here at W & M but have a long way to go. We are considered one of the leaders in the collegiate world for our prevention efforts, and we are honored and proud that others view us that way, but we know we have a long way to go.
The area that I am very proud of, is that some of our organizations are reaching out to those involved with the prevention effort to discuss, and ask for help, providing alternative activities that achieve the goals and mission of the organization in a more positive manner. For the last two years we have had organizations take advantage of our outdoor program to schedule trips that bring the members closer together and allow them to bond in a very challenging, but supervised activity. I hope that more groups will take advantage of this opportunity as well as other opportunities.
I know our efforts at W&M are not to stop people from feeling a part of an organization, but to provide guidance and opportunities to achieve the same result in a healthy and positive way. Also getting our W&M community to realize they can make a difference. If something is happening to you or someone you know that feels like hazing, you can step up and stop it. When we were coming up with a phrase to represent our hazing prevention efforts we came up with: My Tribe, My Responsibility: A Home without Hazing. It really is your responsibility to help your fellow students be treated with respect and dignity in a safe environment and we are here to help in any way we can.