On a trip to Fairbanks for a game against Lathrop last weekend, members of the Dimond High School football team are alleged to have committed an egregious hazing incident that, according to some reports, constituted sexual assault. Anchorage police are investigating; the team’s game this week was canceled, and Superintendent Deena Bishop underscored the seriousness of what is said to have happened. The allegations of what happened shock the conscience. If they are substantiated, serious consequences for the team and those responsible will be warranted. But even without an objective account yet established of what happened, one thing should be recognized as true: Hazing, in all its forms and at all its levels of severity, is harmful and unacceptable. We should all stand against it.
There has been backlash against the use of the term ‘hazing’ to describe what is alleged in the Dimond incident. Many feel it minimizes the severity of what happened. Although we should certainly guard against the use of euphemism to distance ourselves from the truth of an incident, the fact of the matter is that regardless of what happened at Lathrop last weekend, it was hazing. Like assault, hazing encompasses a spectrum of behavior that ranges in seriousness from putting people in fear of harm to causing them grave injury. And, also like assault, there is no point along that spectrum that is acceptable.
One doesn’t have to go far to find how dangerous hazing can be: On Friday, a Pennsylvania court heard arguments in the case of a college freshman who died of injuries he sustained in 2017 while being hazed before entry to a fraternity. Closer to home, two hazing incidents in 1999 put a cloud over the season of Service High School’s football team, and a 2005 paddling incident at West High led to the suspension of nine upperclassmen.
Fortunately, hazing incidents that approach the level of severity of what is alleged to have happened during the Dimond incident are relatively rare. But hazing that takes the form of shaming others or bullying them is commonplace, and it too can have serious negative impacts on students. The legacy of harassment, abuse and humiliation stretches far beyond the incident itself, for years and even decades afterward. And although some claim zero-tolerance policies for hazing are evidence that young people today are somehow weaker or less resilient than those of previous generations, that’s just not accurate.
Make no mistake, team bonding is vitally important. But there are ways to promote unity and cohesion among athletes and group members that don’t involve coercion or compulsion to embarrass one another. It’s the responsibility of our adults, coaches, group leaders, parents — all of us — to teach our children proper limits, good judgment and respectful behavior. Hazing is a clear signal that we have failed in that mission.
Ultimately, there’s no way to ensure that what one person feels is an acceptable way to establish a bond or bring others into a group is acceptable to another except by their free, uncoerced consent. And in a state that regularly ranks at the top for the worst rates of sexual assault, every Alaskan must be crystal clear on the importance of consent and the right of every person to feel safe. Teaching those lessons and being consistent about them means we cannot accept hazing as acceptable in any form, under any circumstances. If we see it, we must speak against it, and stop it if we can. We owe that to each other.
—Anchorage Daily News, Aug. 26, 2018