Hazing, The Fallout With Travis Apgar

"On Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010, Travis Apgar, associate dean of students at Cornell University, came to Oswego State to speak to students, namely those involved in Greek life or athletic teams, about the reality of hazing and its imperceptible, harmful effects.

"Most students, Apgar said, perceive hazing as physical torment that is usually humorous and intended to build character. Its comical depiction in the movies, like "Old School" and "Animal House," sends out mixed messages and creates confusion about the true definition of hazing. In fact Apgar said according to studies, 90 percent of students who experience at least one hazing activity do not identify it as hazing.

""People are willing to endure pretty brutal behaviors that are sometimes life-threatening," Apgar said. Many have the false belief that if they are willing to participate it is not considered hazing.

"According to Apgar, in collaboration with CAMPUSPEAK Inc., an agenda-setting company in higher education, the standard definition of hazing is "any activity expected of someone that is joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them physically or mentally regardless of a person’s willingness to participate."

"Apgar’s goals in visiting Oswego State, Wednesday, were to figure out if we can look at the situations that Oswego State’s young men and women in student organizations are involved in and to see if we can help them to avoid those situations.

"At the age of 18, Apgar was a victim of hazing as a football player and as a fraternity pledge. He pledged to a fraternity for 10 weeks, and on the night of his initiation, he decided he wanted to go all out in attempts to impress the brotherhood, despite the fact that the next morning he would have to wake up to play in the biggest game of the season. Apgar remembers starting the night drinking heavily, and does not remember much after that—and probably wishes he didn’t have the memories he does have. He recalled being blindfolded and brought into the kitchen, being dared to jump off a chair, barefoot, into a pile of glass. Upon agreeing to do so, the brothers, fortunately, switched the glass with a bag of potato chips. He also recalled hovering over a toilet, and then being blindfolded and having to pull something out of it with his hand. He then recalled waking up at 4:30 in the afternoon the next day, with marker written on his face. He had missed the big game.

"Initiation into a fraternity is something you should regard as meaningful, and as a milestone, Apgar said, but he did not even remember his.

"For Apgar, the effects of hazing went beyond overconsumption of alcohol, participating in embarrassing events, and missing football games. He focused more on his fraternity than his education. Instead of attending class and completing his schoolwork, he would wash his older brothers’ cars, and tend to the rest of their tedious work, as he was told to. Apgar ultimately failed out his first semester, and his brothers told him that he had failed them, although Apgar believed they were the ones responsible. It made Apgar believe he was not good enough. It was only later on that he came to realize that hazing is problematic.

"Greek life and athletic teams are not the only student organizations that experience hazing, Apgar said. A quantifiable percentage of members of club sports, performing arts, intramural teams, recreational clubs, academic clubs, honor societies and even religious groups have identified at least one activity that qualifies as hazing.

"When it comes to hazing, ignorance is not bliss, Apgar said. 95 percent of students who recognized having experienced hazing did not report it to officials. In reality, Apgar said that according to studies only 31 percent of students felt like part of the group after hazing, 8 percent felt stronger and 15 percent did better in classes. The majority of students did not believe hazing had any positive outcomes.

""I get that we want people to value membership in a student organization," Apgar said. But hazing is not the solution. We should instead "find really constructive ways to help them understand what the sororities and fraternities are about… You have an obligation to take care of the people that are joining our organizations; to make sure, first and foremost, that the reason they are here academically. You have to [avoid putting] them in situations that distract them from academics."