To the Editor:
Working directly with students for over 30 years, as professor, dean, and president, I have observed that hazing (and its not-so-distant cousin, bullying on the secondary-school level) are never individual events ("After a Death, a Question: Are Students Hard-Wired for Hazing?" The Chronicle, February 12). A single individual does not haze, or bully, another. There is universal agreement that students as individuals are one thing (usually wonderful), but put them in a group and Animal House may break out. Often it is a small group within a larger group, such as four or five members of the football team, or the same number of fraternity brothers, who carry things too far. The other members either just watch or acquiesce, but do not get into the dangerous physical side of it.
Colleges everywhere have programs, and bring in speakers, to address very large groups about the illegality and the dangers of hazing. This does help, but unfortunately the shelf life is too brief. In come new students—who may not be hard-wired for hazing, but are anxious to demonstrate their creativity—and we are off to the races again.
If there is a solution, it might be to address the problem at the smallest possible level. Bring in the cohort that causes suspicion within a fraternity, athletic team, band, or other group. Add to that the titled leader of the larger group—for example, the president of the frat. No accusations, no threats, just plain sensible talk, along with a description of the consequences if hazing does occur. Try to treat the small group the way you would an individual. It's time-consuming, and knowing who to bring in is a lot of work, but that's why we have deans of students, along with their many assistants.
Are students hard-wired for hazing, for bullying? I honestly think a few are. And you only need one reckless driver of a car to injure or kill the passengers.
Robert V. Iosue
York College of Pennsylvania