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Continuum of Hazing

Hazing activities vary in severity and exist along a continuum. At one end are initiation and group-building activities that do not constitute hazing. At the other end are severe forms of hazing that can result in severe psychological trauma, permanent injury, or death. In between there are a range of activities that might be considered low to moderate-level hazing.

Below are a few important concepts related to the continuum of hazing.

The Reasonable Person Standard

Where a given activity falls on the continuum is not simply a function of what the act looks like to an observer. That’s because hazing impacts people differently. An action that one reasonable person might experience as mildly humiliating might be experienced by another reasonable person as severely humiliating. In other words, when hazing occurs there are objective and subjective realities, both of which matter when assessing the severity of that action.

The Vulnerability Standard

Certain individuals are more vulnerable to given acts of hazing, perhaps because of past experiences. For example, one fraternity required new members to perform an “elephant walk” in which new members were stripped down to jock straps, blind-folded, and forced to parade around the house in a straight line while holding each other’s hands between their legs. Objectively, a reasonable person might describe this as a very humiliating act. But for one new member, the act evoked memories of being sexually abused as a child. For this vulnerable individual, the act was also emotionally re-traumatizing.

The Grey Zone

Some people find it difficult to determine when a given activity crosses over into hazing. If you are unsure whether an activity constitutes hazing, start by examining it in light of the University’s definition. You can also ask yourself a few questions:  

  • Would you hesitate to describe this activity to your parents or the police?
  • If a videotape of the activity was shown on the news, would you be concerned that the group would get in trouble?
  • Would the current members refuse to engage in the same activity?

If you answer affirmatively to any of these questions, there is a good chance that the activity is a form of hazing. If you are still unsure, you can place an anonymous call to university officials, including the Dean of Students and Judicial Administrator, and ask their opinion.


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