Bullying is a buzzword in the media. We hear about it all the time and it seems that everyone wants to take a stand in the fight against bullying. This is a fairly new movement, with the first news stories of bullying breaking primarily in the last few years. But hazing, that’s age-old.
Seniors kidnapping freshmen, older team members destroying the property of younger team members, forcing new members to perform embarrassing acts and subjecting them to an array of humiliation and mental torture. From this description, it seems difficult to tell the difference between hazing and bullying. Each act involves power, both involve the establishment of a dominant player, but most importantly—both involve absolute degradation and humiliation of a “weaker” prospect.
In my opinion, bullying and hazing are actions born of the same intention: to feel more powerful by degrading others. The emotional effects of bullying are similar to the emotional effects of hazing, but there is one key difference between the two issues: the relationship between aggressor and victim.
Bullies do not have any “good intentions” for their actions. Bullies bully because they want to harm their victim, either physically or emotionally. Similarly, victims of bullying usually (not always) have no desire to become friends with their bullies. A victim of bullying fears their bully and only has a desire to escape the abuse. In instances of hazing, the opposite is true. The victim subjects themselves voluntarily to the group, and subsequently the hazing because they desire to become a part of the group or to become friends with the aggressors.
Hazing is seen as a “rite of passage” and many times those who are doing the hazing have no ill intentions. They believe that they are somehow “enriching” the moral code of the victim, helping them to become a stronger member of the group, or even forming stronger bonds. None of these things prove true in hazing instances. The results of hazing are the same as bullying: the destruction of personal property, physical abuse, mental and emotional distress, humiliation, and in the worst cases, death.
I was a victim of bullying throughout my school years. I spent most of my time in middle school desperate to fit in and to escape the social isolation I faced at the hands of my bullies. In high school, I experienced the “mean girls” in addition to exclusion and teasing. It seemed that the terror would never end. Who would have thought that I would find happiness in a group of 200 girls?
Joining a sorority is the best decision I have ever made. I was blessed with 200+ sisters who loved me unconditionally. I always wanted to fit in, and in Zeta Tau Alpha I found my home. I was finally in a place where diversity and individuality were celebrated, morals and values were held in high regard, and friendship and sisterhood were the most important things. This was nothing like high school and a far cry from bullying. Zeta was my open arms, where I no longer felt like a victim. This was the beginning of my self-rebuilding. Zeta helped me to rebuild my self-esteem, empower my self-confidence, and find the friendships I sought for so long. My experience in a sorority could not have been more positive.
Hazing and bullying are very similar and closely related. In some instances, it could be argued that they are the exact same. As a victim of bullying, I am here to tell you that the sorority experience now is not what it was in the past. Hazing is not tolerated. This is not an environment that seeks to tear each other down. We are members of a special group. We hold one another to a higher standard, a standard that wants more for ourselves and for each other than to hurt or belittle by hazing.
Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. The love I found in my sisterhood is something I will always cherish, and it is something that I hope everyone has the opportunity to experience. If you suspect that your child is experiencing or engaging in hazing, it is so important to talk to them candidly about the issue. Talk to them about the dangers and risks associated with hazing, but also talk to them about the kind of relationships that they are missing out on by hazing. Hazing creates an environment that is wholly different from the one I experienced in college. Choosing to participate in hazing, encouraging hazing or even failing to report it, strips someone of the opportunity to form lifelong bonds with memories that will never fade.