Hazing is far from harmless

Ron Reed is a retired Elk Creek High School teacher and current Willows resident

Haze/hazing: “to place (someone, esp. aninitiate into a fraternity) in an embarrassing or humiliating situation by forcing him to do mental or foolish tasks.”

Freshman initiation was a tradition when I began teaching in Elk Creek. The main components of the ritual were cross-dressing, wearing diapers, and homemade goop poured into the hair of the freshmen. It looked like hazing to me. I found a dictionary and showed the above definition to my administrator. He said not to worry; it was a tradition and harmless fun. I had to agree with the “fun” part of his assessment. Every one did appear to have fun during the event. Many of the freshmen’s parents came and took pictures. Even so, I stuck my neck out every year in protest. I just didn’t stick it out far enough. I could have stopped it. Hazing was against the law and the Education Code. I wasn’t willing to take the fallout of being the “up tight teacher” responsible for eliminating a “fun,” harmless tradition.

The “fun” ended abruptly, and without fanfare, the year a new additive to the goop burned the scalps of the initiates. If the last concoction had gotten into the eyes and was powerful enough to cause permanent damage or blindness, all hell would have broken loose. The district’s pocketbook and the lives and finances of the administrator and board members would have been up “doo doo” creek without a paddle. I don’t think I could have been held liable or legally responsible. Morally, I can’t think of anyone more responsible; certainly more responsible than a stupid, unthinking high school student, because I understood the danger and escalating nature of hazing. I held in my memory a news story that appeared in the Sacramento Bee a decade earlier. The Bee reported the hazing of a fraternity pledge who choked to death trying to swallow a huge chunk of liver.

The water torture, hazing death at Chico State University last fall jogged the above memories. Setting aside the issue of liability, which of the following scenarios does the reader believe is morally more reprehensive? A high school that thinks hazing is harmless, condones it, and ignores the law; a university that knows hazing is dangerous, does not condone it, but fails to see that the law is enforced; the silence of all the past and present fraternity members at a university that participated in the illegal act of hazing, nurturing a culture that ultimately led to the death of a brother.