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College Hazing On The Rise, But So Is Scrutiny


This past week, charges were filed against members of the Florida A&M marching band in the hazing death of a former member. In recent weeks, there have been a string of hazing scandals on campus. In April, five Boston University students were bound and beaten in a fraternity house basement. And Rolling Stone magazine recently profiled a Dartmouth student's humiliating hazing experiences.

But as New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein reports now, all of this attention may be a good thing.

DAN GORENSTEIN, BYLINE: It was an early October night back in 2006. Dartmouth College sophomore Ravital Segal was leaving the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house. Blindfolded, she and several other pledges were led to a waiting car.

RAVITAL SEGAL: We started driving, and I was handed a 64-ounce water bottle that was filled with an alcoholic punch and told to chug it. And simultaneously, I was handed vodka shots from the front of the car.

GORENSTEIN: The 19-year-old was 5'1", 125 pounds.

SEGAL: My next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit with bruises and cuts on my body. My teeth were broken.

GORENSTEIN: Segal's blood alcohol level that morning was .399, a breath away from a lethal limit.

SEGAL: There were three of us in the back of the car. All three of us ended up in the hospital.

GORENSTEIN: Dartmouth says since 2010, it's sanctioned several student groups for hazing and is set to launch a task force in the coming weeks, but stories like Segal's and worse aren't uncommon. A professor at Franklin College in Indiana has kept a running tab on hazing-related deaths. Since 1970, there's been 112.

The accepted definition of hazing is something that humiliates, abuses or endangers a person joining or participating in a group, even if that person consents.

DR. SUSAN LIPKINS: This is happening across the country on a daily basis.

GORENSTEIN: That's Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who serves as an expert witness in court cases and speaks on the issue.

LIPKINS: We've heard of, you know, girls that have been nude, and their bodies are circled, and people write ugly or fat or whatever across them.

GORENSTEIN: In the last 10 years, Lipkins thinks hazing is getting worse - more humiliating, more sexualized, more violent.

LIPKINS: You see it from year to year, you know, because the kids will tell me, well, last year, I had to eat mealy worms, but this year, I wanted to make it a little bit worse so I added cracked glass.

GORENSTEIN: There's no definitive data to determine whether hazing is on the rise or even if it's getting more dangerous. What we do know is more than half of students who belong to student groups participated in some kind of hazing ritual. That's according to a 2008 report from the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention at the University of Maine.

Professor Mary Madden says the research also smashed the long-held stereotype that hazing is confined to sports teams and the Greeks.

MARY MADDEN: When your child joins an honor society at their college, you would not really be concerned that they were going to be hazed.

GORENSTEIN: Yeah. Even honor societies have forced people to carry heavy backpacks. Madden says understanding the breadth of this has made it easier to talk about, it's less taboo. And she says that's helped school administrators take hazing more seriously.

MADDEN: When you would see people and they would ask what you're working on and you would tell them hazing - and this is not even 10 years ago for me - they would kind of laugh and go, oh, yeah, you know, I heard this story. And they'd relate something they thought was funny. And I don't get that as much anymore.

GORENSTEIN: Madden says actually, attention focused on bullying has allowed adults to see the risks and harm that comes from hazing.

Brian Strahine still remembers the time he and his Delta Upsilon brothers at Cornell put pledges through a grueling spring night. They dressed up, got drunk, swam in the lake, then came back to the house basement. Strahine noticed one particularly ill-looking pledge slumped over the couch.

BRIAN STRAHINE: He was struggling. And actually, I remember a senior telling me that he was a pre-med major, and he knew how to handle the situation.

GORENSTEIN: As fraternity president, Strahine overruled the senior and had someone take the sick pledge to the ER. Strahine says he did the best he could to look out for the guys. But even as the hazing continued into the early hours, Strahine didn't put an end to it.

STRAHINE: The whole night, I just felt uncomfortable. I felt sick to my stomach. I was angry.

GORENSTEIN: To this day, Strahine continues to feel complicit.

STRAHINE: I would give anything to meet with them again and apologize. I would have nothing else to say other than I'm deeply and terribly sorry. And I'm ashamed of the things that I did.

GORENSTEIN: Strahine, who today speaks on college campuses about his experiences, knows a lot of people revere nights like the one he just described, defining moments when someone believes they became a man. Strahine says he can't relate. For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein in Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.