Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Zero-Tolerance Zone: Efforts to Combat Hazing Continue to See Challenges from Negative Social Media Sites and Political Campaigns

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Zero-Tolerance Zone: Efforts to Combat Hazing Continue to See Challenges from Negative Social Media Sites and Political Campaigns

Article excerpt

When colleges and universities across the nation opened their doors for the 2016-17 school year, there was guarded optimism that headway had been achieved on many campuses in addressing hazing.

Zero-tolerance rules and anti-hazing educational programs beyond the classroom regarding engagement in historically rooted practices of physical hazing have taken hold, supplemented by active enforcement of state criminal laws barring hazing. Programs aimed at dealing with sexual, gender and race harassment and similar negative conduct have also gained steam.

Today, efforts to combat hazing have been challenged by a proliferation of social media sites boasting negative messages about racial and ethnic groups and gender-specific groups. Bursts of negative political campaigning using bully-toned and demeaning language seemed to suggest such rhetoric is acceptable and effective in communicating with others.

Fighting back

Institutions are responding in myriad ways, from high school to junior high school visits about hazing, bullying and civility in the use of social media to broader and increased monitoring of social media networks and the types of messages they project.

For example, University of Wisconsin officials in early November said they asked two fans attending a Wisconsin-Nebraska football game to remove parts of a costume they were wearing that appeared to be a President Obama mask with a noose around his neck. Earlier this fall, in Nashville, Belmont University, the historically Baptist-rooted college, promptly expelled a student the same day it investigated what the institution called "a racist social media post."

"As a Christian institution, it is our goal to build a diverse and inclusive community where all members feel accepted, safe and valued," Belmont said in a statement about the social media message.

"We're sending kids mixed messages," says bully prevention trainer Kimberley Ewing, an Indianapolis-based behavior consultant to schools, discussing the emergence of negative social media and the political rhetoric of some politicians. "It sends the wrong message that it's OK" to disparage and bully, Ewing says, echoing safety advocates and officials at institutions across the country.

The impact of the wide range of negative communications to readers, listeners and viewers of all ages suggests the anti-hazing campaigns, and other civility efforts championed since, need to begin in junior high and high schools, say their advocates.

"We realized if we're going to tackle, reduce or eliminate these kinds of abuses, we have to start earlier," says Emily Pualwan, executive director of, one of the nation's major anti-hazing action groups.

Pualwan, whose group's efforts gained more serious attention earlier this decade on the heels of tragic hazing deaths at Baruch College and Virginia State and Florida A&M universities, says her historically college-focused hazing organization has expanded its efforts.

Now, Pualwan says is paying more attention to high school hazing and bullying, which her Georgia-based organization indicates are at the roots of the social challenges, based on studies, surveys and research.

Certainly, much of the scattered research and the anecdotal evidence suggest hazing and bullying have close ties and hazing and bullying have proliferated via social media and a national political climate that legitimizes negative attitudes. A 1999 study for Allen University conducted by researchers Dr. Norm Pollard and Dr. Elizabeth Allen found that 1.5 million students are hazed each year. It found that 91 percent of all high school students belong to at least one group involved in hazing and 48 percent, or nearly half of those surveyed, reported being subjected to hazing.

"Every kind of high school group was involved in hazing, including 24 percent of the students involved in church groups," the report found. …

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