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Hazing in College: I Hazed, and I Was Hazed. Here’s What I’ll Tell My Son

I was hazed in college. I’m also guilty of hazing others.

I now have a teenaged son of my own.

4 Things I Want my Son to Know about Hazing:

1. Hazing happens in more places than fraternities.

It’s easy to point at fraternities as the main culprits for hazing based on newspaper headlines, but my first exposure to it was in my college dorm.

During my freshman year, I was the target. My sophomore year, I was the one doling it out. In both cases, the hazing was embarrassing and inconvenient, but neither met my criteria for refusal to participate. Ah, yes, refusal to participate. Seems like an easy thing to tell your kids to do. But we all know that’s not the case.

2. Fitting in is a powerful motivator.

Most hazing takes place in college, usually when you’re joining a new group, and all you want to do is fit in.

In other words, it’s not that different from high school. You’re in a new environment with new people and desperately want to simply be one of the gang. By not playing along, you risk being ostracized even before anyone gets to know you.

My junior year, I joined a fraternity and over the next two years again played both roles or hazee and hazer, but this time the levels of risk and humiliation were decidedly higher.

3. Alcohol impedes decision-making.

I vividly remember putting some poor pledge through a form of petty embarrassment and feeling nothing short of shame and regret. Another time, when vast amounts of alcohol were part of the equation, I felt vaguely uncomfortable but don’t recall feeling concern for their health.

As an adult, I know precisely why: I was a dumb kid who couldn’t fathom the idea that drinking excessive amounts of alcohol might kill someone.  When alcohol is involved, the instincts you need to rely on become cloudy. And that’s the danger.

I will tell my son that if anyone asks them to do anything that involves alcohol, beg off, refuse, come up with an excuse.

4. Think about potential emotional and physical harm.

Consider the situation. You were probably expecting me to start by saying: “Don’t do it!” But that would be too simplistic an answer. Hazing, like anything else, takes place in shades of gray. The two most significant factors I want him to consider are humiliation and risk. If what you are being asked to do will emotionally haunt you, don’t do it. If what you are being asked to do can easily threaten your wellbeing don’t do it. Your instincts are a pretty good barometer in both circumstances.

Will my son be strong enough to make wise decisions? I can only hope. All we can do is arm our kids with our own experiences and potential repercussions.

As my wife wisely tells them, before you make a decision, play the tape to the end. Visualize what the outcome could be.

I don’t like hazing. Not one little bit. I think back on how I willingly participated in the embarrassment and degradation of others, and I wonder why I went along. I mean, why would I want to inflict a misery on anyone that I would not want inflicted on myself? The answer is simple: because I was young and stupid. I wanted to fit in. It didn’t seem that bad at the time.

Soon my son will most likely be faced with a similar situation. I will tell him to consider the situation and ask himself if it’s worth it.

And play the tape to the end.

Bryan Johnston

Bryan Johnston is a freelance writer, author of several books, and the Creative Director for a creative agency in Seattle, Washington. He is married, has two teens, and one large goldendoodle. He loves baseball and movies and thinks A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the most enjoyable book he’s ever read.