Perspective and Hazing

December 9, 2011

Political Theory


There was a post not too long ago about how hazing can be a good thing. I don’t want to say that the points that the person was making were wrong. I did comment on the topic, but a situation has come up that warrants a new thread on the topic. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, a drum major for the Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 (their marching band) was killed in a hazing accident after a football game on the bus ride home.

The point that was made in the earlier post was more along the lines of fraternity hazing rituals and how they could be seen as entering a social contract with the brothers. I’m taking this in a different direction. During this class (at least in my section) we spent some time looking at different situations and trying to decide as a group whether they were right or wrong, focusing on the perspectives of cultural relativism, universalism, and cosmopolitanism. I will try to look at these points of view on this situation.

A cultural relativist might say that every hazing ritual is unique and you need to judge each of them individually. From this point of view, one might note some differences between fraternity hazing and this particular instance. They might see the fraternity hazing to be alright because the subjects are choosing to partake in the hazing and the results might not be lifelong consequences. However, the same cultural relativist might see the hazing that the FAMU band did as wrong because there are lasting consequences for many of the people involved, including one member being dead.

A universalist would probably try to just look at the subject as a whole and claim it all bad. If hazing is good for one then it is good for all, or if it is bad for one it is bad for all. Obviously each person has their own outlook, but they would choose whether all hazing is good or bad.

A cosmopolitan person might try to approach the subject from a place of understanding, while also trying to point society in the right direction if they were to decide that something needs to be done about hazing.  “Cosmopolitans think that it’s okay for people to be different. That they care about everybody, but not in a way that means they want everybody to be the same” (quote from Appiah).

Now that’s what they may do, but if I may voice my opinion, I think that this needs to be approached from the stance of cosmopolitanism. What we as a society need to do is inform people of the problems of hazing. If we’re ever involved in a hazing ritual then we should exercise caution and take as many precautions to prevent a problem like FAMU experienced. Basically, everybody be smart and make sure that the University of Michigan never ends up in a story with a headline like this story.

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9 Comments on “Perspective and Hazing”

  1. jacobdockser Says:

    After reading this, I find myself a bit conflicted. While at first I would sympathize with the position of a universalist and say that hazing no matter what is bad, I would have to agree with the position of a cultural relativist. Hazing comes in many shapes and forms. I do not think it is fair for hazing, holistically, to be banned and shunned as a terrible thing, resulting in jail time and school expulsions. Don’t get me wrong, it is a magnificent tragedy that this student died at the hands of hazing rituals, but we cannot be quick to rule all hazing as bad.

  2. mimirofl Says:

    When I first hear of hazing, I think of veterans making the newbies do ridiculous and dangerous tasks to get themselves “accepted” by the group. But that is mainly influenced by the movies I have watched about college hazing, etc. However, upon hearing some of my friends’ and what they go through, they tell me that although it is difficult, it is actually a bonding experience with the other hazees. I believe that some of this hazing where it results in death is in part due to alcohol/drug abuse. Some people take it to far and involve the use of alcohol or drugs which usually and always ends badly because of the activities they do.

    Like jacobdockser stated, “hazing comes in many shapes and forms… [and] we cannot be quick to rule all hazing as bad”. I am neither supportive or against banning hazing, but I do believe schools should be informed about the intensity of hazing just so the hazers can be careful in how they plan out their activities to avoid any consequences.

  3. Mason Bear Says:

    Before the entirety of my post I want to say that the death of the student is tragic, and that my response does not refer to pointless hazing or any hazing that may endanger lives. That being said, I think that the author overlooks hazing and how widespread and affluent it is in nearly all cultures and groups. When we hear the word “hazing” most minds think of a young member in a Greek organization being paddled, forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or having to stay up for nights on end. However, a closer look at the definition of hazing is necessary before evaluating its moral worth. A section of the Michigan Hazing Policy reads, “Examples include but are not limited to…interfering with the students academic endeavors.” Michigan prides itself on having over a thousand student groups all which require some form of time commitment. Simply put, the non-academic groups that require a time commitment is detracting a student’s time that could be used for studying. So is this considered hazing? How about the cultural groups that have been involved in hazing for centuries.

    Many religions and cultural groups have traditions marking the celebration of “becoming an adult.” For some Native American tribes these were often marked by a physical or spiritual journey. A boy, often around 12 or 13, being sent into the wilderness with little to eat and drink to complete the process of having a “spiritual epiphany” or “becoming one with nature”. To me, this sounds like hazing in its most extreme form. Yet, do we really have the right to tell a cultural group that their sacred traditions are not correct and in fact are demeaning? I once heard a quote along the lines of, “only through fire does raw iron become steel.” Who are we to judge a group on what sort of fire they use?

  4. nasearc Says:

    I agree that the cosmopolitan approach is smart. Making sure everyone is safe and that everyone knows the dangers of hazing are important in order to prevent as many FAMU like situations as possible. However I do think that cultural relativism is more relatable to hazing. Hazing can be very different according to what institution is implementing the hazing. A good example of this is Greek life at the University of Michigan. Some Fraternities choose to physically and mentally challenge their pledges by depriving them of sleep, making them drink excessively and constantly lowering their self esteem. However other Fraternities choose to use hazing as a tool to teach respect, create bonds, and show the importance of the Fraternity to its members. I am a member of Greek life and I can honestly say that through the little hazing I experienced I met my best friends at college. However I have friends in other Fraternities whose experience was different and less enjoyable. Although I enjoyed most of my hazing experience, many don’t and it can often be dangerous, so we must treat hazing with caution, but understand that it is not consistently harmful.

  5. ksoisson Says:

    I understand where you are coming from with the cosmopolitan approach and at first, I also approached from this point of view. However, after I thought about it for a second, I think I would take a more cultural relativist stance. I think hazing is acceptable to a small degree. Once any type of serious injury or extreme shame occurs, then I believe it is unacceptable. Because students choose to take part in these events, they are at some fault. If at any point they are uncomfortable, they should just walk away from the situation. But the consequences of this situation question hazing as a whole. I do believe each situation has to be judged individually because there are so many different forms of hazing.

  6. jrmeller Says:

    I understand exactly what you are saying, there are always risks of going too far when it comes down to hazing. I found it interesting how you approached how three different schools of thought would think about pledging, especially universalists, because during pledging there is a real universalist mindset. The whole point of hazing is to bring the group together as one, and if one thing harms one person, then it harms the rest of them. Everything relates back to the group as a single unit, regardless of the circumstances.
    Since I’ve been in college I have heard a lot of horror stories about hazing, have seen fraternities get in trouble for hazing, and have heard 2 different cases of hazing resulting in death. It’s awful, but these are also cases of a lack of responsibility, and it’s important for people to know not all hazing is as bad as these horror stories make them out to be

  7. scottmha Says:

    Where do we draw the line for hazing? It is practiced among such a wide variety of cultural groups that its hard to make one generalization for hazing. Not only does hazing occur in fraternities, marching bands but also professional sports, each type are seem so fundamentally different that it makes it hard to approach this situation from a universalistic stan point. I feel it would be most effective to use the cultural relativism stand point. Take professional sports, hazing is done to many of the rookies, and it is usually done in playfulness for solely entertainment for the seasoned veterans. Usually hazing in this case is never harmful and in such would make it hard to regulate hazing and one general practice. But i believe that in fraternity and club situations, if hazing to occur then the people who posses the authoritative power need to be much more responsible.

  8. bmjasper Says:

    While I understand that hazing has many negative consequences it is also crucial to identify the benefits of hazing. Due to the fact that hazing is a ritualistic experience following many traditions of the organization, it is often used as an attempt to give every person within the fraternity, or team something in common. Most importantly, hazing unites a pledge class by forcing them to share a unique experience requiring them to grow from individuals into one unified group. The negative aspects of hazing do serve a larger purpose which are to teach pledges to hold each other accountable, become a leader, and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. While hazing may be dangerous in some scenarios, the majority of it is nothing more than an attempt to begin to create lifelong bonds between a group of individuals

  9. lukeythekid Says:

    The only time in which hazing causes a negative outcome is when it is done incorrectly. The university, as well as many other institutions, has the wrong idea – it lumps in any constructive tasks and beneficial activities along with the humiliation and pain causes by a bunch of sadistic assholes. People have portrayed hazing as a terrible and completely horrendous form of torture, and so those who do it assume that if they’re doing it, they might as well go all-out and take advantage of it.
    When I read about some of the things that a fraternity did to get kicked off of this campus, I thought that a few of them were pretty fucked up. They were useless acts of rage and alcohol-fueled men who abused the system. I’m sure that some of what they did was actually beneficial, but the more extreme measures were purely for the entertainment of the brothers. But I do not at all mean to say that they are alone, or that they are inherently bad people – this was undoubtedly done to them, and they just continue the process.
    Many things that are considered to be hazing are incredibly useful – people forget that the pledging process (for many institutions, not just fraternities) serves a point. Freshmen who come to this campus are lumps of clay that need to be molded into presentable brothers within a short amount of time, and sometimes that requires more extreme measures. These kids come out of high school thinking that they’re the coolest kid on campus, and so they have to be brought down a notch and introduced to the real world. In addition, they have to learn to overcome adversity and become closer to their pledge class, who should become their dearest friends, as close as actual blood-related brothers. Finally, they have to learn a lot of information about the fraternity (or other institution), which includes not just current members, but history dating back hundreds of years.
    This involves challenges, which come along with either rewards or punishments – this is where the grey area is and where administrators liberally label things as hazing. Yet a pledge period should be something that is enjoyable, something to be remembered. It’s a chance to break people out of their shell and force them into a position where they have to do things that they never thought they were capable of. It is actually a pretty incredible sight to witness people overcoming their fears, breaking down boundaries which they never thought they could. It is understandable that people would view these things as hazing, because those being “hazed” may feel uncomfortable or scared, but the point is to remove that fear and make them into men who will be better off for it. Pledging is one of the most important times of a young man’s life, and is an incredibly successful process of turning boys into men. They don’t just do this to earn the respect of their brothers, they do it to earn the respect of themselves.
    As a proud member of the fraternity system, I can honestly say that I look back fondly on my pledge term and often regret that I will never have that opportunity again. Because the activities of fraternities are secretive, their actions so guarded, the only knowledge that people have about “hazing” is what they learn when they read horror stories of malicious fraternity men. This breeds fear and misunderstanding of a system that has produced some of the finest and most successful people in the world.

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