Hazing prevention top agenda item as new school year begins
If we needed evidence on a larger scale about the potential devastating effects of hazing within the athletics setting, the recent alleged events at Northwestern University should cause all high school leaders to stand up and take notice.
What seems like innocent fun at first – making freshmen handle the unpleasant chores as an example – can sometimes spiral out of control and lead to loss of jobs for coaches, shattered lives for students and parents, and shame for the community at large.
Year after year, events such as the football hazing scandal that jolted the Northwestern campus continue to occur – at the high school and college levels. Although we are shocked, distraught, disappointed, discouraged and downright angry, progress over time seems limited at best.
As middle schools and high schools begin classes, and as fall sports teams hit the practice fields, this is another chance – the next chance – for coaches and administrators to do what is right. Bringing a halt to longstanding rituals may not be a popular decision in some settings, but in most cases, it is the BEST decision for the health and well-being of the students.
BEFORE the season starts is the time to lay down the ground rules, share the expected behavior and make it clear that every person is to be valued and that hazing will not be tolerated.
By definition, hazing is any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of a student to belong to a group, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. Any kind of initiation expectations should never be part of high school sports or performing arts.
Over the past two years, a number of horrific hazing incidents have occurred during the first month of the school year. Last year, in the month of August alone, there were five highly publicized incidents across the country – one of which forced cancellation of a school’s entire football season.
Now is the time to change. Establishing an anti-hazing culture is the first step as the new school year begins. And that culture may need to include a different plan for welcoming new members. Inclusion must be accomplished without a “requirement” for being a part of the team.
To build a positive school culture, coaches and athletic directors must take proactive steps. School leaders must supervise student-athletes and make it clear to every student that hazing will not be tolerated. An anti-hazing policy must be developed, and it should be presented to every student and parent in advance of every sport season. The policy should be simple – no tolerance for hazing of any kind.
A tremendous resource to help in establishing a positive school culture is the online education course, “Bullying, Hazing and Inappropriate Behaviors,” which is available through the NFHS Learning Center at www.NFHSLearn.com. This course educates coaches about their legal responsibilities to provide a safe and respectful environment for the students in their care.
In addition, “Hazing Prevention for Students” is a free course designed to teach students how to identify hazing, when to step in, and why they should notify proper authorities.
The NFHS also offers a number of resources on hazing prevention for school staff, students and parents on its website at https://www.nfhs.org/resources/student-services-inclusion/hazing.
In an opinion piece on MSNBC.com, Elizabeth Allan, a professor of higher education at the University of Maine, had the following to say about the importance of hazing prevention in high school athletics programs:
“If we value the well-being of children and young adults in our lives, then hazing has no place in our athletic programs, schools, campuses and communities.
“Hazing prevention is not only about eliminating harm and senseless suffering, but it’s also about gaining something. In the absence of hazing, we can build stronger and healthier groups, more ethical and caring leaders, and more inclusive communities that support student mental health and well-being. The alarming reports of hazing at Northwestern are a clarion call for prevention and, with that, an opportunity for each of us to transform the hazing culture and create safer schools and campuses for our students.”
Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff is completing her fifth year as chief executive officer of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the first female to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.