Hazing ‘normalized’ in our culture, expert says

Hazing is so ingrained among college organizations that it’s often not even recognized, according to a founder of stophazing.org.

“So much of hazing has become normalized in the culture,” said Dr. Elizabeth Allan, a University of Maine professor and Ohio State University alum. “You hear people rationalize it or dismiss it or minimize it, saying, ‘Oh, no, no, that wasn’t hazing, that was just an initiation, or that was just a tradition, or that was just for bonding.’ “

RELATED: Do Ohio laws protect you from hazing when you join a group?

The death of a Penn State fraternity pledge and lawsuits against the University of Dayton and the University of Toledo have turned lawmakers’ attention to hazing and hazing laws.

RELATED: UD fights hazing lawsuit; law different than school policy

Unlike Ohio’s hazing law that only includes activity that is an “initiation into” a group, Allan said experts in her field say, “The definition of hazing is not just to gain membership into a group, but it’s also to maintain one’s membership,” she said. “The state laws are very uneven across the board.”

RELATED: Stophazing.org

Allan has been the lead investigator in studies about hazing around the country and testified in Congress. She said the tales of forced drinking, sexual assault and other hazing incidents happen across the country.

“It’s really disturbing, the extent to which I hear those stories and the extent to which they echo one another,” Allan said. “Every time, it’s disturbing and horrifying and many times tragic, like we saw at Penn State.”

RELATED: Fraternity, 18 members charged in Penn State student’s death

Allan said getting into a group or staying in a prestigious organization act to coerce people to submit to hazing that showed up not just in physical harm, but psychological and emotional harm.

“We found it cut across a range of groups, so in fraternities and sororities, athletic groups as well as performing arts groups like marching band, theater group and even in honor societies and academic clubs,” Allan said.

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Several hazing-related allegations have surfaced at area high schools and colleges in the past few years, besides the lawsuit involving the University of Dayton. Among them:

Miami University: Three fraternities recently were suspended because of hazing allegations. As of September 2016, seven fraternities and one sorority were suspended at Miami.

Tri-Village High School: No charges were filed by the Darke County Prosecutor's Office after allegations of hazing involving the boys basketball team.

Ohio State University: The marching band director was fired for allegedly facilitating a culture of sexual harassment.

Trotwood-Madison High School: A lawsuit was filed against three members of the 2011 football team after they allegedly assaulted a freshman with a broomstick.U

Wright State University: The school faces two lawsuits brought by three former men's tennis team members for alleged due process claims after they dismissed from WSU after an investigation of sexual misconduct.

Springfield Shawnee High School: The Clark County Sheriff's Office is still investigating allegations of harassment made during the baseball team's spring break trip to Tennessee.

Wayne High School: Two baseball team members were convicted of assault for sexually violating a freshman at school.

Allan said the big, egregious hazing cases get national attention, but many more go unreported.

“When you have a law or a policy, it’s important, but it’s not enough,” she said. “There’s just a lot of work to be done to really sharpen the awareness of the general public, of the parents whose kids are going to school, of educators.”