Students Question Hazing on Campus in Advance of New Anti-Hazing Training

The Ohio state legislature passed the Anti-Hazing Act in October 2021. In accordance with that act, it is now mandatory for Ohio institutions to hold anti-hazing training.

“Each institution shall provide students with an educational program on hazing, which shall include information regarding hazing awareness, prevention, intervention, and the institution’s policy developed under division,” the act reads.

Hazing is any activity expected of someone joining or maintaining full status in a group that humiliates, degrades, or risks emotional or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

In order to comply with the new law, the College has implemented mandatory hazing training for all students. This training will be conducted online during the spring semester. In response to this, the Review did a poll on its Instagram asking if students believed there was hazing at Oberlin College and Conservatory. 140 students voted no and only 29 said yes. In response to that, I talked to students across campus about their thoughts on hazing. Many reported that they haven’t experienced hazing, and some didn’t understand how the concept applied to the College. While puzzling, this strikes me as completely normal for Oberlin students because, while we can’t completely negate hazing, it could be a lot worse.

When we think of hazing, we think of students being harassed and bullied to a gruesome degree. We think of fraternity and sorority pledges who go through rituals that humiliate them or, in rare cases, end in death. It’s a word that isn’t used lightly, making it hard to look at from an Oberlin perspective. We don’t have fraternities and sororities, and co-ops don’t require any trials or rituals to be a part of their community. While we do have sports teams, they live in a very different environment than other schools.

“I do not think hazing is a problem at Oberlin, but I should recognize the stance from which I am coming at this,” College fourth-year Liam Baxter-Healey said. “I transferred to Oberlin from a different institution that had a hazing culture, and it did not seem like hazing was a part of Oberlin’s community culture. It did not feel like an expectation that you’d sort of be thrown into a certain scenario in order to join a club or organization.” I haven’t heard of an incident of hazing on campus, and there haven’t been any public claims in recent years. I don’t want to claim that hazing does not happen at all at the College, but compared to the statistics of hazing in America, it is not a major issue here. Statistics show that 22 percent of Americans believe they have been hazed, but 83 percent of our poll claimed that there was no hazing on campus at all.

“It’s hard to avoid hazing in colleges because they have a history of hazing, so it’s not like these traditions are going to get weeded out,” Baxter-Healey said. “But I also think there’s an appropriate context around what qualifies as hazing and what is hazing. I especially think Oberlin students seem to be hyper-aware of not trying to make other people uncomfortable.”

I am proud that hazing isn’t a huge part of campus. It’s a testament to our dedication to being kind and making sure our student body feels safe on campus. I do wonder, though, if our confidence is misplaced, potentially covering up the hazing that could be happening in more private parts of campus.

“I personally haven’t ever met anyone who had a really negative hazing experience,” College second-year Maya Angles said. “You consider hazing to be doing something violent and bad, doing stuff that you don’t want to do to be initiated into a group, and that I haven’t experienced. I have experienced initiation rituals that are an opt-in basis, but I am always comfortable.”

A reason for the lack of hazing could also be because sports and private clubs at our school aren’t as popular as at other schools. While I’m sure someone could say that there has been behavior that fits the hazing criteria in their respective sports team or organization, it’s not considered a large issue on campus. According to the poll, many students don’t consider it a problem or recognize it exists.

“It’s hard to say because the only thing I can think of when thinking of hazing would be like the varsity athletes, and I purposefully distance myself from them,” College third-year Amelia Sterling-Angus said. “I could imagine hazing to be true. But I’ve also not heard any horror stories of hazing. So I’m not adamantly saying that they have hazing, but it could be a low-key possibility.”

Oberlin College is also a place that puts stress on consent and a comfortable environment. The student body and groups, at the very least, acknowledge consent and stray away from peer pressure or making people uncomfortable for the sake of humor.

“I think Oberlin is a cool place in that we understand consent, maybe more so than other places,” Angles said. “I don’t know a ton of people on varsity sports teams, but I think I can speak pretty solidly for club sports to say that any forms of hazing would be gentle, kind, and with pretty well-informed consent by the people being ‘hazed.’”

Later this semester, College and Conservatory students must undergo hazing prevention training. This training will be administered in a brief online session. My first thought is that, of all the training Oberlin could mandate, hazing isn’t at the top of the list. I would much rather have training on diversity and inclusion as a stand-alone session instead of implemented in PRSM training. With that being said, I don’t negate the fact that it can never hurt to become more aware of the dangers of hazing.

“I feel like there should be more consequences and ways of learning about hazing,” College first-year Sydney Banks said. “It can be really harmful to other people. And it can happen a lot at parties, so I am glad that Oberlin is initiating this training.”

I am interested to see how the Oberlin student body responds to the training. I hope that, regardless of previous notions, people use the training to better familiarize themselves with tactics of hazing. Maybe after the training we’ll find that we, as a community, still have things to work on.