Saturday, October 25, 2014
High school hazing: 'It's not an isolated problem'
Posted: Friday, October 24, 2014
Hazing hurts. But it’s not only the alleged victims who experience the shame and humiliation, according to psychologists.
Allegations of hazing activities in school sports or extracurricular programs leave a wide swath of collateral damage, including school staff, students and parents who are not directly involved, according to experts. The ripple effect reaches into the surrounding community where divided allegiances are common.
“It’s not an isolated problem that is just affecting a few students. There are reverberating effects to the family, friends, and school, there are so many layers, and that is only when we find out about an incident,” said Elizabeth Allan, a professor of higher education at the University of Maine and director of StopHazing.org. “It still has an effect even when it’s not big public news.”
Available research suggests that hazing incidents — long associated with college fraternity and sorority culture — are becoming more prevalent and violent in high schools. Researchers at Alfred University in New York suggests that almost half of students who join any group in high school experience some kind of hazing; most often a student reports they were subjected to humiliating activities.
Central Bucks West High School suspended its junior varsity and varsity football programs and suspended the coaching staff amid allegations of player hazing. “Numerous” Central Bucks West players were accused of subjecting younger players to a form of “waterboarding” and at least one rookie player was forced to grab the genitalia of a senior player during preseason training sessions.
The local hazing controversy comes on the heels of one in New Jersey involving the Sayreville War Memorial High School. The school’s state-title winning football team had their season canceled earlier this month shortly before seven members of the team were charged with hazing-related crimes, including aggravated sexual assault. The team’s head coach and four assistants have been suspended with pay.
Hazing allegations typically divide the community beyond the school where they occurred, particularly when a popular sports team is involved, said Allan and psychologists who’ve studied hazing behavior among college and high school students.
“You often hear people in the aftermath say, ‘These are good kids,’ ” Allan said. “It’s hard to make sense.”
New York based psychologist Dr. Susan Lipkins calls the community reaction to hazing allegations a “second hazing.”
Typically community allegiances split with most people supporting the coaches and players — not the accusers and their supporters, who are often criticized and ostracized, said Lipkins, a leading expert in the field of hazing and author of the book “Inside Hazing.” The reactions are magnified in cases where the town has strong community ties with a school team or sports program.
“People feel very, very strongly,” Lipkins said. “They want to maintain the status quo and they’ve have good experiences. The coach created the winning team and the identity. They feel they have an allegiance with the coach. They have relationships with these coaches.”
Often in communities with exceptional sports teams, the public often hold a near reverent regard for the players and coaches that have become part of the town’s identity, creating a deep desire by the public to protect that identity, Lipkins said.
“Everybody diminishes the events,” she added. “Whatever actually happens, we may never really know the full extent. The community, in general, does not want to accept these things actually happen and even to their children.”
Disbelief is a common reaction within communities where hazing involving school programs occur, added F. Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Notre Dame who presents workshops on hazing.
“We do want to blame people and we want a quick fix.” Power said. “A lot of parents and children are going to find it hard to believe that their friends, teammates or classmates would do this kind of thing.”
The fact-finding investigation involved with hazing allegations can take a long time and result in a lot of finger-pointing, which stalls the spotlight on the affected school, players and community, leading to further stigmatization, Power said. As a result, the community’s healing process can be bitter and long, he added.
Adding to the confusion, experts said, is often coaches or other adults who are suspended amid hazing allegations but remain in the classroom as teachers, which is the case with the Central Bucks West football coaches, some who are district teachers.
Suspended coaches remaining in the classroom can create an uncomfortable situation for hazing victims or accusers. Also, the continued placement of those teachers in the classroom can send the rest of the student body and staff mixed messages about the school’s stance on hazing, the experts said.
“We know what students have told us in our research is they interpret the school’s sanctions to either condone or not condone hazing,” said Allan, the University of Maine professor. “It’s hard for them to see the nuances that may be going on behind the scenes with contracts. In the absence of a strong statement of leadership from the school they create their own story line.”