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Friday, September 12, 2014

September 12, 2014: More Cville Stories: Hazings

[Back in March, I featured a week’s worth of Charlottesville stories in anticipation of a book talk there. Well, Cville is just an AmericanStudier’s kind of town, because during my August visit with the boys I found myself thinking about another handful of local histories and stories from this Central Virginia city. So here they are!]
On two of the factors that make hazing such a complex and challenging issue.
One of the more prominent stories of the 2013 NFL season was former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin’s charges of harassment and abuse against fellow players Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, and others. In much of the coverage of and responses to Martin’s story, it was framed in relation to the social issue of bullying, an issue that unquestionably affects numerous young Americans (especially those in the LBGT community, among others) and to which the Martin story likely helped draw further attention. But I would argue that Martin’s situation could be better described through the lens of hazing, an issue that relates to bullying but that comes with its own distinct factors and challenges—and that for this AmericanStudier has a couple Charlottesville connections.
For one thing, while bullying depends on narratives of othering, of treating the victims as outsiders in one way or another, hazing is connected instead to the concept of belonging—and, concurrently, is to a degree voluntarily pursued by its victims, in an effort to belong to whatever group or organization is doing the hazing. Earlier this year, two University of Virginia fraternities lost their charters due to charges that they were hazing new recruits, just the latest in a long history of fraternity hazing incidents around the nation (many of which have resulted in fatalities). I have no problem with such punishments, and indeed hope that they can help eliminate the hazing process at all fraternities and sororities (as well as other collegiate organizations)—but again, part of what makes it so difficult to identify and police hazing is that its victims are likely aware of the specifics of what will happen to them, and certainly aware of the broad concept of hazing within the organization, and yet enter into the recruitment process nonetheless. I don’t believe it will be easy to eliminate such a communal process, although I support the goal.
Both my support for ending hazing and my understanding of its complexities come from a more personal Cville story as well. As a freshman at Charlottesville High School, I experienced two hazing processes—a brief but violent hazing performed on all first-year students in the marching band; and a much more individual, intimate, and extended hazing at the hands of upperclassmen on the cross-country team. (Both the band director and the cross-country coach were well aware of, and at least tacitly supported, these hazings, adding another complication to ending them.) Immediately after the cross-country hazing, I also experienced another complicating factor in the process: the way it easily turns into a multi-year cycle. The upperclassmen who had been chiefly responsible for my hazing asked me to imagine how good it would feel to enact a similar hazing on the subsequent year’s freshmen, who were at the time 8th grade members of the team; I believe I’m a good person, but I will admit that this ugly version of paying it forward offered a tempting way to ameliorate some of the pain (physical and psychological) I was feeling. Yet I’m proud to say that I resisted that temptation, helping instead to put what to my knowledge has been a permanent end to such hazings at CHS. It can happen, but it’s not and won’t be easy, as these Cville stories illustrate.
My next Guest Post this weekend,
PS. What do you think about this complex issue? Other stories from your town(s) you'd share?


  1. My high school band hazed it's newest members by "toilet papering" the front yards. While it was a challenge to clean up, it certainly wasn't physically or psychologically harming. In fact, I was thrilled when it happened at my house!

  2. Thanks for the comment! I certainly think that some forms of hazing can be more inclusive and harmless, and that sounds like an example. I might want to think about a different term for them, to separate from the destructive kinds--maybe just initiations instead?