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Hazing in High Schools: Causes and Consequences

reviewed by Ellen W. deLara - 2006

coverTitle: Hazing in High Schools: Causes and Consequences
Author(s): Kevin L. Guynn and Frank D. Aquila
Publisher: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, Bloomington
ISBN: 0873678559, Pages: 75, Year: 2004
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Fear, intimidation, physical abuse, even sexual abuse, rites that are tantamount to being “jumped into” a gang, encompass only part of what high school students are willing to endure for a place in a coveted group. Why do teenagers subject themselves to degrading and humiliating behavior? Why do educators need to be concerned about this? What can educators do about it? What are the legal issues and consequences? The authors of Hazing in High Schools: Causes and Consequences, Kevin L. Guynn and Frank D. Aquila, write in a clear, concise, and highly readable form to address these important questions. This small book is an extremely valuable resource for anyone who wants to gain insight and understanding about this phenomenon.

Bullying, harassment, and hazing in schools are pervasive national and international problems (Devine and Lawson, 2004; Espelage and Swearer, 2004; Smith, 2003). Exacerbated by numerous well-documented variables, such as school management styles and community standards or norms (deLara, in press; Sarason, 2001), bullying or hazing can be viewed from the microcosmic perspective of student-on-student interpersonal abuse or from a broader more ecological, systemic approach (Espelage and Swearer, 2004; Garbarino and deLara, 2002; Olweus, 1993). Both views are necessary to understand and deal with the problems of physical and emotional abuse that affect students and school climate.

Hazing is a form of bullying in that it involves power and control as well as intimidation. The end result of hazing is admittance to a particular group or organization. Hazing can include physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. The authors warn that every high school student who joins a group of any kind (including a church group) is at risk of being hazed. Hoover and Pollard’s (2000) national study indicated that nearly half of all U.S. high school students who participated in a group acknowledged engaging in some form of hazing activity.

Traditionally associated with entrance into fraternal organizations and secret societies, hazing has a long, and often offensive, history. Over the years, hazing activities have changed from benign rites of passage, signaling a pledge of loyalty to a group, to “a physical manifestation of the loyalty rite” (p. 39) often accompanied by pain, according to Guynn and Aquila. They contend that as society has tolerated more violence, hazing, too, has become more aggressive. As an example, they cite the so-called 2003 “Powder Puff” football game that occurred in a suburb of Chicago. The extent to which tormentors and their victims would go in the name of traditional hazing was demonstrated by this event. Upper class students kicked, punched and otherwise tormented their blindfolded younger peers in the name of tradition. Afterwards, some participants required hospitalization. Even those who participated in previous years said this event was particularly vile and violent. Initially, the school and parents disclaimed any responsibility for the actions of those involved, especially since the younger students had “volunteered” to be part of the hazing and initiation (Napolitano, 2003). But due to public outrage and pending lawsuits, school officials took action and suspended student perpetrators.

Guynn and Aquila do an excellent job describing the process and purpose of hazing and the compelling group dynamics inherent in hazing. One of the purposes of hazing is to pass along the story of the group to the next generation of group members. Hazing continues to “work” for many reasons, among them adolescents’ developmental need to belong to a group. Hazing continues at all because much of hazing behavior goes unrecognized and certainly unsupervised by adults. As a result, it can be dangerous both physically and psychologically to the participants. Further, even when adults know hazing is a possibility, they demonstrate a dangerous lack of awareness and lack of understanding of consequences by “minimizing an incident to a statistic, by calling it ‘horseplay,’ or by shrugging off the activities of hazers as merely ‘tradition’” (p. 43).

Hazing, like other forms of bullying, exists in a climate that supports and enables it- either overtly or covertly (Garbarino and deLara, 2002). Guynn and Aquila encourage us to reflect on community standards and institutional attitudes that “permit or tacitly encourage the hazing” (p. 40). Communities, parents, coaches, or educators that consider hazing “just a rite of passage” or “harmless tradition” enable it to continue.

The authors point out that some schools are attempting to “replace hazing traditions with helping traditions” (p. 52), but assert that first educators need to be aware that there is a problem. With lawsuits coming to the forefront in every state, administrators cannot afford to wait to hear from parents or others in the community to determine if there is a problem. All concerned adults need to be more proactive. Since the authors contend that hazing takes place in all types of groups from athletics to band, from theatre to chorus, administrators and teachers should assume that there may be some form of hazing in their high school and take the necessary steps to investigate. Being the last to know is a reactive posture that the authors exhort us to abandon.

The later section of the book provides the reader with articulate descriptions of the legal aspects and current legislation on hazing. Included are useful appendices that delineate, on a state by state basis, hazing statues along with specific penalties. The authors remind us, “School authorities have a legal duty to care for the children under their charge” (p. 34). This small volume provides much important information for teachers and administrators to use in thoughtfully addressing concerns of caring and protection. In discussing the legal ramifications of a district’s failure to protect students from hazing, the authors state “Courts will look at the administrator as the one who knew, or should have known (italics added), of the potential for hazing to occur” (p. 35).

Besides the obvious moral and ethical obligations to protect students, schools run a considerable financial risk if they fail at this important responsibility. Several important legal cases are cited in the book along with the large cash settlements that were received by the students’ families. In this era of budget constraints, no school can afford to lose money as a result of court-determined negligence.

Hazing is happening in our schools. Until this is recognized, it will compromise learning by placing students in a toxic environment infused with “physical and psychological danger” (p. 4). Guynn and Aquila agree with other educators and researchers when they say, “eliminating hazing requires school officials to take personal responsibility” (p. 43). Community members, parents, teachers, students, and administrators must all work together to resolve this pernicious problem. The authors correctly state, “Hazing can be eliminated when there is a collective assertion of will and a strong effort to do so” (p. 53).

All educators would do well to read this powerful little book. Until we can figure out how to deal effectively with hazing in our schools and due to the current litigious nature of our society, we need to know as much as possible to protect our students and ourselves.


deLara, E. (in press). Bullying and violence in U.S schools. In R. Wilson (Ed)., Children, culture and violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers.

Devine, J., and Lawson, H.A. (2004). The complexity of school violence: Commentary from the US. In P. K. Smith (Ed.), Violence in schools: The response in Europe (pp. 332-350). NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Espelage, D.L., and Swearer, S.M. (Eds.) (2004). Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Garbarino, J., and deLara, E. (2002). And words can hurt forever: How to protect adolescents from bullying, harassment, and emotional violence. NY: Simon & Schuster/ The Free Press.

Hoover, N.C. and Pollard, N. J. (2000). Initiation rites in American high schools: A national survey’s final report. Alfred, NY: Alfred University.

Napolitano, J. (2003, May 8). Girls' game turns violent. New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2004, from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9407EFDB163FF93BA35756C0A9659C8B63

Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publisher, Inc.

Sarason, S.B. (2001). American psychology and schools: A critique. NY: Teachers College Press and the American Psychological Association.

Smith, P.K. (Ed.). (2003). Violence in schools: The response in Europe. NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 1, 2006, p. 138-141
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12011, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 7:20:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Ellen deLara
    Syracuse University
    E-mail Author
    ELLEN W. DELARA is an assistant professor of Social Work at Syracuse University. Her research addresses school violence and bullying from a systemic perspective. Her most recent books are: And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (2002) and An Educator’s Guide to School-based Interventions (2003), both co-authored with Dr. James Garbarino. Professor deLara’s research has been featured on “The Today Show,” CNN, “The Washington Post,” and National Public Radio. She has been the recipient of several teaching awards, including the National Merrill Presidential Scholars Award.
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