Recently reported at KOMOnews.com, Henry Jackson High School Cheerleaders were suspended for "conducting initiation rituals in violation [of] the district's athletic code." These suspensions were due to what was called "hazing" type behavior which included making newer squad members "wear diapers," shooting "them with squirt guns" and hitting "them with hot dogs."
Taking a hard line approach to the situation, school officials were quoted in the KOMO piece as stating:
"When students make poor choices, it is disappointing to us, just as it is disappointing to parents. We hope, as parents do, that each action with appropriate consequences is a positive learning experience."
It is also inferred in the following video news story that some of the parents may have tried to get the punishment overturned:
Hazing, bullying, and other demeaning behavior, from one individual or group to another, has been a problem for a long time; however, it wasn't until the last several decades that it started becoming a big issue, especially in the media. Reports of athletes being given large amounts of alcohol, being stripped down to their underwear (or worse) and forced to engage in lewd or inappropriate behavior, using feces and/or urine in strange ways, being hung by the waist and punched, being held down and given the common "swirly" where an athlete's head is forced into a toilet as it is flushed, being duct taped and given a haircut (or worse), etc., etc. If you can imagine it, it has probably been done or contemplated as a possible initiation ritual--"hazing."
As several of the acts mentioned above do far exceed what happened with the cheerleaders from Jackson High School, it does show the extreme extent to which some will go with these initiation rituals. Likely started as a way to build team unity and togetherness, giving that group something unique and special only to them (a good thing), the extreme and sometimes life-threatening nature of some of these rituals has brought them to the forefront of attention. Many athletic codes nowadays include some mention or inference of the improperness of such behavior and carry consequence for teams and/or individuals who initiate and participate in any type of hazing.
However, it does raise a question. When is it that a team-building type-initiation ritual, the kind that actually DOES bring team members closer together--creating an unbreakable bond and allegiance to one another, turn into something quite different? Something that, very possibly, evaporates any chance of providing that impenetrable link between athletes necessary for success in the athletic arena, destroying the very thing the initiation ritual was trying to create. Basically, when does the positive of initiation turn into the negative of hazing?
A solid definition provided by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention out of the University of Main states:
"Hazing is any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person's willingness to participate."
As good as this definition is, along with the research engaged in by this group, it still leaves the question open-ended. It is easier to determine actual abuse, especially endangerment, but what about degrading behavior or humiliating behavior? Is there really a specific line that one crosses with these two, or is it simply a matter of opinion?
Take a look at the behaviors exhibited by the cheerleaders from Jackson High School - they were shot with "squirt guns," hit with "hot dogs," and made to "wear diapers."
It is unlikely anyone would consider these acts as endangering, but what about abusive? Humiliating and/or degrading? At least one mother did, but not all were on the same page. At least that is the impression I got based on the video provided at KOMOnews.com.
So what do you think?
So, do I have a definite opinion on all of this?
Well...let me just say that the definition the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention is a good start; however, I must also add that a little common sense added to that definition will go a long way. The last thing we want is to make it so black and white, or absolute, that NO initiations can ever be allowed. When bad things happen, we do tend to swing that pendulum of change from one extreme to the other without giving any thought to the benefits of trying to find some middle ground where positives can be maintained while the negatives are diminished or eliminated.
That's my two cents anyway.