The State of Pennsylvania defines hazing as: “Any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with…” The definition becomes even more complicated, so I will translate.

In plain English, hazing can be a wide variety of activities. It can even involve placing an individual in a potentially harmful situation even if no serious harm is intended. As part of many fraternal initiation rights, new members are doused in water, tied up, and placed in front of an air conditioner for a night. That is hazing, and whoever placed the new member in front of the A/C has not only committed a third-degree misdemeanor offense, that person is culpable for the consequences.

Hazing can either recklessly or intentionally endanger an individual. In the example above, the members may not have intended to give the guy double pneumonia but would still have been held responsible for damages caused by their actions.

Hazing is conducted as part of a group’s activities and can be required for admission. It is also performed regularly as a part of the initiation process. New members of sororities and fraternities will often subject their new members to endangering rites. A few of the more common examples:

  • Physical brutality – whipping, beating, branding,
  • Forced calisthenics
  • Forced consumption of food, liquor, drugs or other substances
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Activities that cause severe mental stress – Sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, conduct that can result in extreme embarrassment
  • Willful destruction or removal of private property

Hazing is typically seen as ‘normal,’ or for the good of the group. And 9 times out of 10, it might not even leave a scratch. But in practice, these activities all too often lead to irreparable physical, mental and emotional damage. That is why the state of Pennsylvania forces all institutions of higher learning to adopt a strict anti-hazing policy. And it is why anyone who has been hazed should report the activity – if not for a personal sense of justice, then at least for future members who could be harmed if the activity continues.