Prevention in Focus


The editorial board for HazingPrevention.Org is excited to offer this edition of Prevention in Focus, a bi-monthly feature article that provides and in-depth look at hazing prevention.  This month's feature offers five lessons that the hazing prevention movement can learn from the anti-bullying movement.

If you have suggestions of future topics for Prevention in Focus, or would like to contribute to our other publications, please contact me.

Thank you,

Gentry McCreary
Five Things the Hazing Prevention Movement Can Learn from the Anti-Bullying Movement

Gentry R. McCreary
University of West Florida


In an address to the National Bullying Prevention Summit in August, 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered the following: 


"For the record, let me state my basic, operating premise, both in Chicago and Washington DC: No student should feel unsafe in school. Take that as your starting point, and then it becomes inescapable that school safety is both a moral issue, and a practical one." 


Secretary Duncan's address was the keynote of the first ever national meeting to discuss bullying prevention in America's schools. The gathering brought together leaders from the federal government, the non-profit sector, the corporate world, and state and local officials and educators, and represented a major step forward in a national, coordinated approach to preventing bullying in our schools. In the two years since that summit, the anti-bullying movement has spread, spawning anti-bullying summits at the state and local level and involving thousands of students, parents, educators and community leaders in conversations about ending bullying in schools. 
A strong argument can be made for suggesting that the hazing prevention movement start with its own version of Secretary Duncan's premise - No student should feel unsafe joining a collegiate organization. Take that as your starting point, and it becomes inescapable that ending hazing is both a moral issue, and a practical one. 


There are many similarities between the anti-bullying movement and the hazing prevention movement. Both involve the prevention of aggressive and sometimes violent behavior. Both have been catalyzed by tragedy. School shootings, suicides and studies showing the long-term negative psychological effects of bullying have triggered calls to address school bullying (Olweus, 1993), just as hazing-related deaths have galvanized a movement to put an end to hazing (Nuwer, 1999). Both are fledgling movements, with coordinated national approaches for both coming together in the last ten years. As noted, the first national Bullying Prevention Summit happened in 2010. The first National Hazing Symposium took place in 2004. Both movements struggle to make the connection between increasing awareness of the behavior and actually eliminating the behavior.  


These similarities aside, an examination of the research and news articles related to hazing and bullying reveals an inescapable truth - the anti-bullying movement has made tremendous strides in recent years, while the hazing prevention movement has struggled to gain traction. This article represents an examination of that phenomenon. Below, I offer five reasons that the anti-bullying movement has experienced success where the hazing prevention movement has stagnated.  


1. Bullying prevention efforts are grounded in quality research 
A simple Google Scholar search demonstrates the vast differences that exist between the amount of scholarly work being devoted to the two topics. A search for "fraternity hazing" yields 111 different links to scholarly work published since 2010. A search for "bullying" yields 16,700 links during the same time period. The amount of scholarly attention devoted to bullying tremendously surpasses the attention devoted to hazing. As a consequence, the anti-bullying movement has been able to ground its prevention approaches in research. On the other hand, those involved in the hazing prevention movement have been largely forced to rely on vague theoretical constructs, anecdotes, myths and suspicions in devising and implementing prevention efforts. 


This is said to take nothing away from the quality research that has been done in recent years related to hazing. The National Study of Student Hazing (Allan & Madden, 2008) is only one example of the groundbreaking work done by researchers in recent years. The Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention uses the Higher Education Center's violence prevention framework, which is solidly grounded in both theory and empirical evidence, as a guide for its curriculum. Despite these recent gains, the hazing prevention movement remains unable to point to any empirical evidence related to the effectiveness of any particular programs or interventions at decreasing the prevalence of hazing. The same cannot be said of the anti-bullying movement. A plethora of research exists comparing a variety of prevention models and their effectiveness in decreasing reported and observed bullying behaviors (Farrington & Ttofi, 2009; Hartung & Scambler, 2007; Smith, Schneider, Smith, & Ananiadou, 2004). The presence of this research has allowed educators and school administrators to fine tune their anti-bullying programs and make tremendous gains in their efforts at preventing bullying. Meanwhile, the hazing prevention movement continues to throw spaghetti at the wall, hoping something will stick. 


2. Anti-bullying leaders have been more effective at lobbying and partnering with governmental leaders at the local, state and federal levels 


Leaders in the anti-bullying movement have been particularly effective in lobbying for the passage of legislation, particularly at the state level, that requires teachers and school administrators to address bullying. 48 of 50 states currently have anti-bullying laws, a majority of which require educators and school administrators to address bullying and develop anti-bullying programs and policies. The New Jersey anti-bullying law, considered by many to be the toughest in the United States, requires schools to report bullying incidents to the state and imposes minimum penalties for perpetrators (Cohen, 2011). While there are no federal laws related to bullying, many forms of bullying are protected under federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. The anti-bullying movement has even drawn the attention of the White House. In March 2011, President Obama held the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, and the cause has been one of the primary issues taken on by First Lady Michelle Obama. The anti-bullying movement has been able to rally support at every level of government, and the movement has tremendously benefited from that support. 


Meanwhile, 44 states currently have anti-hazing laws, but these laws are generally weak criminal statutes with hazing classified as a misdemeanor. Prosecutors rarely prosecute under these laws, as convictions are difficult to come by. Only a very small handful of these laws have any type of reporting requirement for school administrators - as a result, law enforcement is rarely, if ever, involved in investigating allegations of hazing, despite its designation as a criminal offense. There has been no noticeable involvement from the federal government in hazing prevention efforts. Hazing prevention advocates have struggled, despite tragic hazing deaths in recent years, to generate the same level of support from elected leaders at the state and federal levels that the anti-bullying movement has been able to obtain. A concerted effort must be made to reverse this trend, and anti-hazing leaders should continue to push towards a unified definition of hazing and tougher and more enforceable hazing laws at the state level. 


3. The most effective anti-bullying efforts focus on the social environment in which the behavior is taking place 


While a variety of anti-bullying programs exist, one of the most widely used and empirically validated is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Originally developed in Norway in 1983 in response to a series of adolescent suicides resulting from excessive bullying, the OBPP has been implemented world-wide with a tremendous degree of success. Studies have shown that implementation of the OBPP has led to widespread decreases in bullying behaviors. An initial study found decreases of over 50 percent of student-reported bullying, reductions in general anti-social behavior, significant improvements in the social climate of the classroom, and more positive attitudes towards schoolwork (Olweus, 1991). The central premise of the OBPP is that bullying can be redirected into more pro-social behavior by changing the opportunity and reward structures for bullies. Specifically, the program aims to provide fewer opportunities for bullying to take place by closer monitoring of the environments in which bullying is likely to occur, and to reduce the rewards, in the form of prestige or peer support, for displaying such behavior (Kallstead & Olweus, 2003). 


This change in opportunity and reward structures happens through a number of ways, all sharing one common thread. Outside of direct interventions with bullies and victims and classroom conversations about bullying, the primary focus of the OBPP is not on the behavior itself, but on the environment in which the behavior is occurring. Any school implementing OBPP first conducts a thorough assessment of both students and staff to ascertain the types of behavior occurring, and where that behavior is taking place. Using that information as a guide, the school then schedules a conference day to discuss the bullying problem and plan the implementation of the program, developing a committee to coordinate the program and developing a coordinated system of supervising students during break periods and other times and locations revealed as likely bullying opportunities during the assessment. At the classroom level, teachers establish clear and enforceable rules regarding bullying and hold regular classroom meetings with students to increase knowledge and empathy and to establish pro-social norms. Finally, at the individual level, interventions are held with students defined as both victims and bullies (Olweus & Limber, 1999). 


A key to the success of OBPP is the intentional focus on the times and locations during which most bullying occurs. These times are often breaks, free time or the periods between, before and after classes. As such, the programs developed target these times. Monitoring and enforcement on the playground is increased. School bus drivers and cafeteria workers, those people that are part of the community that may be present when the behavior occurs, are part of the planning and prevention effort, and receive training related to the prevention program. The prevention programs developed are comprehensive, specific to the school in which they are taking place, and set clear and enforceable guidelines. As a result, schools drastically decrease the opportunities for bullying to take place. 


Unfortunately, a majority of hazing prevention efforts come nowhere near this level of comprehensiveness, nor do they focus this kind of attention to the environment in which the behavior is taking place. Most campus prevention efforts consist of bringing in a hazing speaker each semester and hosting a hazing prevention week. While these efforts certainly are worthwhile, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that speakers or awareness programs have any impact on the prevalence of hazing on campus. The aforementioned prevention framework used at the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention incorporates a model that is very familiar to the OBPP framework in that it is comprehensive and looks at the environmental factors that support a hazing culture, but most campuses do not yet have the resources or the motivation to implement such a comprehensive model, and only a handful of institutions have attended the institute. Implementing such a model requires support and leadership from the highest levels of institutional leadership and must include a cross-institutional, multi-disciplinary approach to prevention. Most campus Greek advisors, the primary participants in the Novak Institute, do not have the clout on their campuses to implement such a program effectively. Hazing prevention leaders must make it a point to engage senior campus leadership in the fight to prevent hazing, while at the same time working with the leaders of national fraternal organizations to address the power differentials inherent in their membership structures that provide a fertile ground in which hazing activities often thrive. As a movement, we must move from trying to fix "bad apples" to trying to address the "bad barrels" in which the behavior is taking place. 


4. Individual bullying prevention efforts and interventions focus on moral development 


Research has shown strong linkages between moral disengagement and bullying. Bandura and his colleagues (1996) found that students prone to moral disengagement exhibit higher levels of interpersonal aggression and delinquent behavior, exhibit lower feelings of guilt and are more likely to ruminate over perceived grievances. In a longitudinal study of bullying behaviors, Pasciello, Fida Tramontano, Lupinetti and Carpara (2008) traced a group of Italian teenagers from the age of 12 until the age of 20. Their study found four distinct groups in regards to changes in moral disengagement over time - a "nondisengaged" group whose moral disengagement started and remained low, a "chronic" group whose moral disengagement started and remained high, a "late desister" group whose moral disengagement started high but decreased over time, and a "normative" group which displayed initially moderate levels of moral disengagement that decreased over time. Moral disengagement measured at age 14 significantly predicted physical and verbal aggression and violent behavior 6 years later. In addition, their results suggested that the more moral disengagement decreased from age 14-16, the lower the expected levels of physical and verbal aggression were at age 20 for both males and females. Moral disengagement grouping also predicted trajectories for physical aggression, verbal aggression, violence and guilt over time, with the "chronic" disengagers showing steady increases in aggression and violence, and a drastic drop in feelings of guilt over time. This finding indicates that as moral disengagement becomes more routine and internalized over time it reflects the development of a strategy of adaptation that leads them to perceive aggression and violence as a natural way to pursue their goals (Pasciello et al, 2008). 


Anti-bullying programs aimed at influencing student behavior aim to decrease moral disengagement, thus decreasing the likelihood that one will bully. These interventions are specifically targeted towards the common justifications that bullies will use to defend their actions, especially moral justification, diffusion of responsibility, dehumanization of the victim, and disregard for consequences. These interventions also increase the chances that a bystander will intervene in a pro-social manner by casting the bully in a more negative light and helping students feel more empathy for the victims of hazing, creating a "socio-emotional climate of care" (Naylor & Cowie, 1999). 


The field of moral development has provided a tremendous amount of evidence suggesting that students are amenable to moral interventions (King & Mayhew, 2002), and that gains in moral judgment are positively related to a number of pro-social behaviors (Cummins, Dyas & Maddux, 2001; Carroll, 2009). Forthcoming research indicates strong linkages between moral development and pro-social bystander behavior involving intervention in fraternity hazing (McCreary, 2012). Such being the case, those involved in hazing prevention efforts would be wise to begin incorporating intentional programming aimed at increasing the moral development of students into their prevention efforts. Certainly, if campuses and fraternal organizations redirected only a portion of the amount of resources currently devoted towards leadership development towards moral development, we may begin to see real, sustainable decreases in hazing on the college campus. 


5. Parental involvement is viewed as a key component in bullying prevention and response 


A key component to the OBPP model is the involvement of parents in both prevention efforts and in intervening after bullying has taken place. One study found that the vast majority of parents expressed a strong desire to be informed by the school if their child was involved in bullying, even if the teacher merely suspected that bullying was occurring (Olweus & Limber, 1999). When students are involved in bullying, either as a bully or a victim, parents are asked to be part of intervention meetings and to reinforce the messages communicated to students at those meetings. This communication with parents is viewed by the developers of the program as a critical element to its success (Olweus & Limber, 1999). 


Increased parental involvement with their college students is a well-documented phenomenon. Studies have also found that parental notification is perceived by students to be effective in changing behavior related to alcohol and drug use (Lowery, Palmer & Gehring, 2004). Why, then, do our parental notification policies at colleges and universities generally deal only with drug and alcohol offenses? While the FERPA laws place some limitations to our ability to share a student's individual discipline record with parents, there are no laws that would prohibit us from contacting parents in the event of an organizational hazing case. How impactful might a parental notification letter from the Dean of Students to parents of students in an organization accused of hazing be? How might the parents of that student engage in conversations with the student about the implications of their actions? While there are certainly practical limitations to the level of involvement parents can have in hazing cases on a college campus compared to bullying among adolescents, a strong case can be made for including parents in conversations about hazing prevention and for involving them once hazing allegations have been made. 




The hazing prevention movement continues to make tremendous strides. The launch of HazingPrevention.Org five years ago as a national resource in hazing prevention and the continued growth and development of one of its significant programs, the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention, have contributed significantly to changing the conversation about hazing. The presence of groundbreaking new research that will allow for refined prevention approaches is another indicator of the success the movement has enjoyed in recent years. This article is not meant to detract from the very real and substantial progress being made in the fight to prevent hazing. On the contrary, it is the author's hope that this article will create new conversations on college campuses and among those dedicated to the cause of hazing prevention. We have much to learn from the anti-bullying movement, and this article represents only the smallest portion of the tips of two incredibly complex and difficult icebergs. The fights to end both bullying and hazing will continue. In the future, it may even be possible that those two causes can develop synergy and work towards the same goals. In the meantime, we should learn from those who have demonstrated success and have the empirical evidence to prove it.  


If we are to adopt Secretary Duncan's call as our own, more people involved in intercollegiate athletics, fraternities and sororities, marching bands, and other collegiate organizations need to view the fight to end hazing as a moral issue. Sadly, too few of our colleagues currently see hazing in those terms. Hazing persists under the watchful eye of otherwise responsible adults - band directors, fraternity advisors, coaches and a host of other adults sit by as idle bystanders while hazing happens right under their noses. As long as those in positions of authority see hazing as an inconvenient fact of life or a necessary rite of passage, then the hazing prevention movement will fail to capture the imagination of the American public and elected officials to the same extent that the anti-bullying movement has been able to do. Ending hazing is a moral issue, and it is time for serious people to start developing serious solutions in order to bring about its end.  



Gentry McCreary is the Associate Dean of Students at the University of West Florida. Previously, he was the Director of Greek Affairs at the University of Alabama and at Middle Tennessee State University. His doctoral dissertation, "The Impact of Moral Judgment and Moral Disengagement on Hazing Attitudes and Bystander Behavior in College Males," is due to be published later this year. He is the Editor of the HazingPrevention.Org newsletter. 



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