What Is Hazing in College? Facts, Statistics, and Prevention Efforts
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
Note: This report contains content related to suicide and sexual assault. Please take note of these confidential and free resources, available 24/7.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (dial 988). If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek legal counsel. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available at 1-800-656-4673.
Additionally, if you've witnessed or experienced hazing, call the confidential, toll-free anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293). Note that every call is transmitted into an email and then sent to the fraternity or sorority named in the phone call.
Hazing is a ritual that involves risk, pain, or harm, typically as part of initiation into a group.
College hazing often entails forced alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts.
Over half of college students (55%) involved in sports, clubs, or other social organizations have experienced hazing.
It's estimated that since 2000, 105 college students have died from hazing-related incidents.
44 states currently have adopted anti-hazing legislation, but there is a push for a federal law.
Hazing is nothing new to the college scene. But in recent years, it has caused national public outcry for prevention and stronger legislation, mainly due to the high number of hazing-related deaths.
In 2021, NBC reported that since 2000, at least 50 college students have died from hazing, with the majority of those deaths related to alcohol. According to independent researcher Hank Nuwer, the toll could even be as high as 105.Note Reference 
This report investigates the many questions that remain about hazing on college campuses, from why students decide to participate to how colleges can better protect students from its deadly consequences.
Table of Contents
What Is Hazing?
Hazing began as — and remains — a ceremony for welcoming new members into a closed society.
While hazing might seem like a new phenomenon, it actually dates back thousands of years. This may explain why such practices endure in tradition-bound institutions with deep historical roots, like fraternities and athletic clubs.
In a study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle A. Finkel, MD, defines hazing as
committing acts against an individual or forcing an individual into committing an act that creates a risk for harm in order for the individual to be initiated into or affiliated with an organization.
However, hazing has no universal definition, making it hard for students to know when they are experiencing hazing, for educators to know when to intervene, and for colleges to keep track of hazing violations on campus.
According to Inside Hazing, hazing's fuzzy definition and
strong code of silence means that nearly all hazing statistics are underestimates.
Additionally, no U.S. health agency tracks hazing incidents, injuries, or deaths. Instead, researchers, journalists, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers conduct tracking efforts. Here's what they've found since the early 2000s.
- A 2008 national study of student hazing presented by professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden concluded that over half (55%) of college students in clubs, teams, and organizations experienced hazing.Note Reference 
- In the same study, 95% of cases went unreported.Note Reference 
- 73% of sorority and fraternity members experienced hazing.Note Reference 
- 3 in 4 varsity student-athletes experienced hazing.Note Reference 
- According to research by the same group in 2011, alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts were the most common hazing practices.Note Reference 
- Additionally, researcher and professor Hank Nuwer has documented 105 hazing-related deaths since 2000 in his Unofficial Hazing Clearinghouse Database.Note Reference 
- Nuwer's research has found that at least one hazing-related death has occurred each year from 1959-2021.Note Reference 
- In 2014, 83% of students at Cornell University agreed that it is never okay to humiliate or intimidate new members of a social organization. In 2021, that percentage was 91%.
Allan and Madden found that the most frequently reported hazing behaviors of students who were members in clubs, athletics, or Greek life included:Note Reference 
- Participating in a drinking game
- Singing or chanting by self or with others in public groups in a way that is not related to the event
- Associating with specific people and not others
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol to the point of getting sick or passing out
- Sleep deprivation
- And more, represented in the graph below
Greek Life Hazing
According to data collected from the Hank Nuwer Unofficial Hazing Clearinghouse, 76% of hazing-related deaths were associated with fraternities.Note Reference 
Kimberly Davis, Ph.D., a data analyst at Penn State's Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, dedicated her dissertation to hazing and organizational culture in historically white fraternities. She found that the students who were most likely to engage in hazing were male, white, and fraternity members.
In the early 2000s, more than 1 in 4 undergraduates in social fraternities or sororities (26%) drank large amounts of alcohol to the point of getting sick or passing out as part of initiation. Over half (53%) reported that participating in a drinking game was a frequent form of hazing.Note Reference 
Effects of College Hazing
According to the Hazing Prevention Network, the impact of hazing can be felt by all of those involved — hazed and hazer. The effects range from feelings of shame and guilt to the ultimate consequence: death.
One of the more common forms of hazing includes tests of physical dedication to an organization. Student-reported examples include binge drinking, sleep deprivation, enduring harsh weather, and performing sex acts.Note Reference 
Although less common, physical beatings, burnings, brandings, and abductions have also been reported throughout the years.
These hazing rituals can cause physical instability, bodily injury or harm, sleep deprivation, or even hospitalization.Note Reference 
Victims of hazing can experience a lost sense of control or autonomy, strained relationships with family members and friends, and declining grades, all of which can contribute to worsened mental health. Students can even experience post-traumatic stress disorder from hazing rituals.Note Reference 
According to Hank Nuwer's Unofficial Hazing Clearinghouse, 105 college students in the last 23 years have lost their lives at the hands of hazing.Note Reference  Of the reported deaths:
- 60 involved the presence of alcohol
- 11 were caused by car accidents
- 7 were suicides as a result of hazing
- 6 were caused by a fatal fall
- 6 were caused by sleep deprivation
Nuwer notes that his database includes
deaths that appear to meet the consensus definition of criminal hazing, accidents while carrying out pledging or pledges being Note Reference 
encouraged to drink, and suicides where parents believe hazing may have been a contributing factor.
College Hazing in National News
While most well-known hazing scandals have taken place among fraternities, two recent scandals have instead happened within athletic programs.
Harvard Women's Hockey
In January 2023, the Harvard women's hockey program, including Coach Katey Stone, was brought under scrutiny for hazing allegations, including a
Naked Skate tradition and
Initiation Week where first-year students were pressured to consume alcohol and simulate sex acts.
Northwestern University Football
On July 10, 2023, Northwestern head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, was fired after an investigation found that his players had participated in hazing rituals.,  According to the Daily Northwestern, the hazing included sexual abuse, from forced nudity to coerced sexualized acts in the team locker room.
An anonymous player told the Daily Northwestern,
It's just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout that program for years on end now.
Currently 44 states have anti-hazing laws, although the strength and breadth of those laws vary across state lines.Note Reference 
- Of the 44 states, only 30 include a
component of consent,which says that a person's willingness to participate does not determine if hazing did or did not happen.
- The six states without any anti-hazing laws are Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.
- Lawmakers in each of these states except for Alaska are pushing for state-wide legislation.
Many believe that state bills are not enough and that comprehensive federal legislation is necessary to really crack down on hazing. Several bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House and are gaining traction with bipartisan co-sponsorships.
Even in the 44 states that maintain laws prohibiting hazing, most deem it a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Additionally, many anti-hazing laws specifically refer to initiation rituals despite the fact that hazing can take place outside fraternities.
Parents have been the driving force behind much of the recent state legislation. In 2018, the parents and family members of eight college students who died as a result of hazing helped to form the Anti-Hazing Coalition (AHC) in partnership with the National Panhellenic Conference and the North American Interfraternity.
Since the coalition was formed, nine states have enacted strong anti-hazing laws.
A Deeper Look
Anti-Hazing Laws Passed in the Wake of Hazing Deaths
In 2019, Florida passed an anti-hazing law that allows for legal action against students who assist in hazing, regardless of whether they were present for the actual hazing. This bill, called Andrew's Law, was named after Florida State University student Andrew Coffey, who died from alcohol-related hazing in 2017.
In 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 126, also known as Collin's Law, which requires colleges to publicly detail violations of the institutions' hazing policy on their website, along with increasing penalties for hazing violations.
The Georgia Senate unanimously voted in February 2021 in support of a bill that was created in honor of Max Gruver, a Louisiana State University student who died from alcohol-related hazing in 2017. The bill has similar conventions to Collin's Law.
Many believe state bills aren't enough.
In March 2021, U.S. lawmakers reintroduced a 2019 proposal for a comprehensive national anti-hazing law that would require colleges to post information on their websites about any hazing incidents that have taken place on campus or in student groups.
Called The End All Hazing Act, the bill seeks to
educate on the dangers of hazing, expose the groups that haze, and be the catalyst to end all hazing, according to the Gruver family.
The Report and Education About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act was introduced to the Senate in March 2021 and the House of Representatives just a month later.
The bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require higher education institutions to disclose hazing incidents. It would also create a more inclusive definition of hazing to include physical and mental harm or personal degradation regardless of a student's willingness to participate.
So far, the bill has received bipartisan support and is continuing to bring in more co-sponsorships from legislators.
Dr. Elizabeth Allan, whose research informed the statistics listed earlier in this report, told BestColleges,
I feel very optimistic that there aren't really any major concerns about the legislation. It's just a matter of continuing to meet with legislators so that it's on their radar.
How to Stop Hazing in College
Even though hazing culture is deeply embedded on some college campuses, there are still opportunities to minimize, and ultimately eliminate, hazing. Here are some ways students can join the movement.
Actions Students Can Take Against Hazing
- Get to know your college's anti-hazing policies and state and local hazing laws.
- Explore the free prevention workshops, toolkits, and activity guides from StopHazing.
- Become a Student Representative for the Student Network for Advocacy and Prevention (SNAP) to help educate your campus about the harm of hazing while advocating for better prevention policies.
- Take the hazing prevention pledge.
Still, hazing prevention must also come from the institutional level.
In September 2022, StopHazing hosted a research roundtable featuring:
- Dr. Adam McCready, assistant professor-in-residence of higher education and student affairs at the University of Connecticut
- Dr. Kimberly Davis, a data analyst at Penn State's Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform
- Dr. Tim Marchell and Laura Santacrose, director and assistant director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell University
The researchers pointed to several strategies that college leaders can use to help prevent hazing.
Strategies for College Campuses to End Hazing
- Establish a clear definition of hazing for your institution and include interventions as early as the recruitment process.
- Keep a public record of all hazing violations and explain how students can report official hazing violations to university officials.
- Involve students themselves in developing hazing prevention policies, programs, and interventions, and consider individual group cultures when implementing hazing prevention programs.
- Approach policy enforcement as an educational opportunity as opposed to a punishment.
- Expand hazing prevention efforts on campus, from making sure strong anti-hazing statements come from campus leaders and officials themselves to developing campus-wide social media campaigns.
Remember, if you've witnessed or experienced hazing, you can call the confidential, toll-free anti-hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293). Note that every call is transmitted into an email and then sent to the fraternity or sorority named in the phone call.