I am an advisor to a student organization at my campus, and in order to recharter the organization, I recently had to sign a document stating that I had read and would agree to follow the university’s anti-hazing policy. It reads (in part):
Any student may be expelled, suspended, or placed on probation for engaging in ‘abusive behavior directed toward, or hazing, of a member of the campus community.’ Hazing includes any methods of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body or any pastime or amusement engaged in with respect to these organizations which causes, or is likely to cause, bodily danger, physical harm, or personal degradation or disgrace resulting in physical or mental harm …
On the face of it, hazing (so described) looks like a fairly serious moral wrong. We do after all need pretty compelling justifications to engage in that which is likely to cause bodily danger, etc. The organization StopHazing.org defines hazing this way:
Hazing activities are generally considered to be: physically abusive, hazardous, and/or sexually violating. The specific behaviors or activities within these categories
vary widely among participants, groups and settings. While alcohol use is common in many types of hazing, other examples of typical hazing practices include: personal servitude; sleep deprivation and restrictions on personal hygiene; yelling, swearing and insulting new members/rookies; being forced to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire in public; consumption of vile substances or smearing of such on one’s skin; brandings; physical beatings; binge drinking and drinking games; sexual simulation and sexual assault.
This description places hazing next door to torture, morally speaking.
Nevertheless, hazing seems widespread, and so I’d like to know what people think about the ethics of hazing. Could there be a compelling moral reason for hazing given that it often involves behavior that would be impermissible in other contexts?