Discussing Hazing from the Outside-In

Most conversations about hazing are inside out:

  • They start with a narrow set of behaviors banned by state law.
  • Then they expand to include additional behaviors outlawed by university and organization policies.
  • From there, they can extend indefinitely in multiple directions to include things that are potentially harmful, ethically questionable, impractical, or more.

This approach inevitably leads to a dead-end conversation with students asking, “What else can’t we do?”

Hazing is bigger than what is codified in law and policy, so when they serve as the reference point, there will always be more to add. No wonder students complain that everything is considered hazing!

More productive conversations about hazing start from the outside and work in:

  • Hazing is a problematic social-psychological phenomenon that can emerge when people join groups.
  • A situation can be problematic for many reasons.
  • It might be unethical or irrelevant to membership. If this is the case, leaders will take issue with it.
  • It could be impractical or ineffective. If so, a good advisor will call you on it.
  • If it is potentially harmful, any observer should question it.
  • And sometimes it is problematic because it violates laws and policies, and any authority will challenge it.

This approach leads to a different conversation: if a situation or activity is unethical, irrelevant, impractical, harmful, or otherwise problematic, how can we make it better?


The next time you find yourself talking about hazing, ask yourself:

  • What might be problematic about the situation?
  • Why might it be problematic?
  • How do we make it better?