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How Doing Nothing Results in Tragedy

It’s every parent’s nightmare. 

Your kid works hard, gets into a good college, and joins a fraternity.  Then one day the police call, asking you to identify your child – the one you loved and nurtured and were so proud of – in the morgue where he ended up after a hazing incident that involved deadly amounts of alcohol.

Michael Winerip’s article “The Hazing” in Education Life recounts the life and death of George Desdunes, a young man who died after his S.A.E. fraternity brothers “kidnapped” him, blindfolded him, bound his wrists and ankles, and fed him shot after shot of vodka.  It was an S.A.E. traditional rite of hazing.  “It was meant to be fun,” one of the kidnappers told police.  Tell that to his mom, a Haitian immigrant and widow who worked three jobs so her only son could attend private schools.

Desdunes is not the only victim of hazing.  Last November a drum major in Florida A & M’s Marching 100 was beaten to death on the band bus.  In 2010 another S.A.E. pledge, this time at California Polytechnic State University, died after a night of hazing that involved huge quantities of alcohol.  Hank Nuwer, a professor at Indiana’s Franklin College, says that since 1970 over 104 deaths have occurred as a result of hazing.

Of course, incidents like this result in the disbanding of fraternities, new campus rules about alcohol, and multi-million dollar lawsuits, none of which will restore the hazing victim to his family and to his life filled with potential.  And none of which will, in all likelihood, ameliorate hazing. Bullying-bystander

Analysts blame deadly hazing incidents like this on alcohol, and certainly it is a huge factor.  But every time I read about incidents like these, I am struck by the numbers of students who went along with them, who raised no objections, who thought it was “fun.”  I’m sure there are students who refused to participate.  And I’m sure that there were some who beat down their own good judgment to be part of the group.  When hazing incidents are planned, the planners aren’t necessarily drunk, however, which forces us to face the fact that for some students (and maybe adults), hazing is really sort of OK.  It just didn’t turn out well this time.

Hazing is, after all, bullying’s bigger, older brother.  And like bullying, hazing requires, as Barbara Coloroso observes, “… bullies who terrorize, bullied kids who are afraid to tell, bystanders who watch, and adults who see the incidents as a normal part of childhood.”  Coloroso’s book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander is one of the few books to focus on the role of those who don’t actively participate, but simply watch.  Says Coloroso, observing and doing nothing is the key to allowing bullies to proceed with impunity.

The recent movement in schools to educate all kids about bullying is a step in the right direction, but I am hopeful that anti-bullying programs focus on the bystanders as well as the players.  I’m reminded of the quote usually attributed to Edmund Burke:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 

 

 

 

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