By Elliot Hopkins
It would be a blatant understatement to acknowledge that this is not a normal year. This pandemic has exposed the fragility of our nation’s infrastructures, hospital systems, state/local governments’ ability to support their citizens and the challenge to the overall world economy. However, the domestic educational system with over 24,000 high schools have taken their share of the brunt of our current chaos. School administrators are doing their best to preserve a normal routine in an abnormal world. We have transitioned from in-school training, to hybrid learning to total virtual learning and unfortunately, our students are suffering from this inconsistency. Not to place blame or point fingers, this is just a horrible situation for everyone.
High school hazing has been and continues to be a scourge on everything school administrators hold dear and close to their hearts. During a “normal” school year, we have 1.5 million high school students who report that they are involved in some type of hazing involvement, either as a victim, bystander, or perpetrator. Thankfully, we will not have those numbers this academic year. Earlier this school year we had reports, confirmations and subsequent high school teams being shut down in mid-season because of hazing activities. One would think that during a pandemic, young people would be thankful to be together, enjoying teammates, seeing and interacting with each other and taking joy in being able to represent their high schools in competition. But that is the cruel joke that hazing plays on all who participate in that practice. Even during a world changing pandemic, where thousands are losing their battle with COVID-19 hourly, high school students’ desires and needs to be a part of a team or activity surpasses everything else. To be accepted, to share the same ideals as their teammates, to assume the privilege of the team, group is a strongly motivating factor in the lives of adolescents. We can never underestimate the social and psychological pressure to be a part of a team or group, even in the midst of a global disaster. We acknowledge that the pandemic did not cause hazing behaviors this school year. In fact, once the final police reports are completed and the lawsuits settled, the sad truth will be exposed, that the hazing was going to occur despite the current world condition. The hazing environment and culture was present at each of the affected schools. It was just waiting to manifest itself.
If a hazing culture can permeate a school environment and rear its ugly head during a national crisis, prevention of the same culture should have the same opportunity…given the chance. In hazing prevention models, experts tout numerous solutions, intentional discussions, bystander training, supportive signage, pledge cards, participation contracts, parental involvement, local college, law enforcement and community workshops, all are very effective and worthy initiatives. However, there is one behavior that is the common thread to all of the potential solutions, ”the want to”. Coaches, administrators, school district leaders all have to share the common belief that they “want to” not have a permissive hazing environment on their campus. It is a collective expression to keep young people safe and exhibit to the community that as educational leaders they are providing not only the academic rigors of high school, but teaching and modeling the positive and safe social and emotional behaviors as well. Our role is to teach and prepare young people for the future. If we do that well, then we will have trained the next set of capable leaders ready for the next worldwide challenge.