Hazing Prevention

Hidden Harm of Hazing: Engaging Peers in This Important Discussion

This article was originally published in the 2013 National Hazing Prevention Week Resource Guide ‘Know.Decide.Act’

Hidden Harm of Hazing: Engaging Peers in This Important Discussion

By Travis T. Apgar

When we take Hidden Harm into consideration within the hazing discussion, it quickly becomes obvious that most who would employ the practices of hazing as a group development system have not considered participants previous life experiences or circumstances. But, for as simple as it might be to explain the concept, conversely it seems equally as difficult to create broad awareness of the concept and for it to affect change in the use of hazing.

Students arrive on our campuses every year from all corners of the globe, having had experiences in their lives that play some part in shaping who they are. Most students show up on campus excited and anxious, as this is a novel experience for them. When they arrive they bring along their belongings, but in addition they have also carried with them their past experiences, many of which are likely considered positive, but also those they could not escape which have caused them harm. College students today can tell wondrous stories of their unique and exciting experiences prior to college. Likewise, many of those same students can articulate incidents or circumstances which have scarred them, physically and emotionally.

Here is what we know…mental health disorders among college students are more prevalent than ever. Many students arrive on campus already having been diagnosed with an illness, and because the typical age for onset for a number of these disorders is between 18 and 21 a significant portion will present while at college. Some students take psychotropic medications to manage their disorder. In a recent study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 3 students reported experiences of prolonged periods of depression; 1 in 4 students reported having suicidal thoughts or feelings; and 1 in 7 reported having difficulties functioning at school due to mental illness.

We also know…that there are students who arrive on campus as survivors of assault, rape, or other physical abuse; some arrive with eating disorders, or issues with body image. We also have military veterans who enter college each year, having spent time in combat situations.

What most don’t know…is the “who” and “what.” Frankly, it’s none of our business. More importantly, we should keep in mind that most people have some experience or circumstance that makes them susceptible to high stress situations. Therefore, it makes the most sense for us to identify legitimate, creative, and positive ways to encourage group bonding.

Having shared my own hazing story hundreds of times with thousands of students, coaches, staff and faculty on campuses and at conferences across the country I have seen just how powerful it can be when people realize the emotional and mental dangers posed by hazing. Most students have no intention to cause lasting harm to their friends or teammates when they use hazing and have not considered the impact such a highly stressful activity can have. Spreading the word, elevating awareness, making sure the concept of Hidden Harm is well known on your campus can make a difference.

The following examples are just a few ideas you might build from in your effort to spread awareness within your team or organization, or across your campus.

Know Your Stuff

Often times the most effective way to share information is word of mouth. If hazing is an issue within your organization you are likely posed with plenty of opportunity to discuss the pros and cons with your peers. It is not likely an easy discussion, but if you are prepared you will have an easier time engaging and making your point. Understand the issues related to Hidden Harm presented earlier in this article. You do not need to know all of the stats, you’re not arguing a case at debate team (unless the group you belong to is the debate team), you just have to be able to help them personalize the issues and realize that hazing could have a negative impact on someone they care about. Avoid a heated argument, make it a friendly discussion. Pose it carefully so as to avoid defensive posturing getting in the way of progress.

Share Your Secret

Raising awareness of good mental health will inevitably educate people on the prevalence and open up opportunities to discuss the Hidden Harm concept. Start a new tradition within your group or team where you all gather with the understanding that it is for team/group bonding, getting to know each other better. Ask people to tell the group one thing about themselves that they might not have already shared, and would only do so with a trusted group. The main rules for this activity are to keep everything disclosed amongst the group, and to show everyone respect during and after the activity. It helps to have a few people agree ahead of time to share their stories to get the activity underway.

Take It To The Streets

Get your group or team to sponsor a campaign related to Hidden Harm, anti-hazing, or good mental health. Your campus counseling center or student mental health advocacy group would likely love the help and can provide information and materials. This not only spreads the word across campus, it opens the door for a more specific discussion within your organization.


College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health: http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/NAMI_on_Campus1/collegereport.pdf

Mental Illness Prolific Among College Students: http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Press_Room1/20041/August3/Mental_Illness_Prolific_Among_College_Students.htm

Persistence Of Mental Health Problems And Needs In A College Student Population: http://www.scattergoodfoundation.org/sites/default/files/