Hazing: Its Beginning and Evolution Throughout History

Gavin Klinger
Mar 9, 2017 · 4 min read

Have you ever wondered where hazing started? You probably think it’s a recent phenomenon that exploded due to the rise of popular media and culture. However, it’s not as recent as you may think. Hazing has a deeper history than most realize.

Believe it or not but hazing started back in the Greek times. It can be traced back to Plato. It all started with the founding of his school Plato’s Academy way back in 387 B.C. Hazing at the time was called pennalism. Pennalism means “a system of mild oppression and torment practiced upon first year students” (Collins Dictionary). A definition that sounds very similar to hazing.

Plato even criticized pennalism (or hazing) by saying “practical jokes played by unruly young men that injured the hazed and citizens who got in the way” (Sterner).

Believe it or not, pennalism (hazing at the time) continued throughout the middle ages as well.

The whole practice was eventually put in place to get new students to recognize their inferiority to the upperclassmen. They would go through physical abuse and sometimes humiliation to the upperclassmen’s enjoyment. Just reading this makes me wonder why upperclassmen would think it’s a good idea? Maybe it relates to the importance of social status and other similar factors.

As pennalism counited throughout the years, it eventually evolved into hazing. It became to be known as hazing during 1684, when one student was expelled for it (Sterner). He became the first Harvard student to be expelled because of hazing, by hitting students and having them perform acts of servitude. This seems quite tame when compared to modern day hazing.

Hazing continued throughout the years but gain more light in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when other groups besides fraternities started doing it. The first groups to do this were literacy clubs that performed childish pranks and other minor jokes that most people do today. This all changed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, when social fraternities started this practice. Social fraternities were similar to those of modern fraternities today.

This practice continued throughout the years until 1912, when hazing related deaths became common. So common in fact that a reporter from the London Post considered it a big problem. Mostly news articles and experts started to realize it’s a bigger problem and were looking to change it. By figuring out why these fraternities are hazing and finding solutions to the problem. This eventually lead educators and schools to crack down on fraternities.

All of those facts just shows how embedded hazing is in our culture. Hazing has just been there in the background and has been forgotten. There was a change however and it happened during World War 1.

Hazing eventually died down at the brink of World War 1. However, it didn’t last long. After World War 2 and one incident made it clear to the public that hazing is terrible. It all started at Kappa Sigma; a fraternity at the University of Virginia, when Richard Swanson choked to death when being forced feed a quarter-pound of raw liver. This made headlines and more criticisms were put towards fraternities and the practice in general.

It wasn’t until the Vietnam War when hazing stopped for a brief time. The Vietnam War was a time of unrest and protest. This protest lead many college kids to think about greater issues and forget about fraternities and hazing. Although hazing declined it didn’t stop it entirety. After the Vietnam War fraternities started up again and using alcohol as a hazing ingredient. This changed hazing and the practice as well.

After alcohol was involved in hazing it changed what is was originally about. These practices were just harassment then changed to more life threating. From eating raw liver to drinking as much alcohol you can in 90 minutes, it uses techniques new and old. Overall, these techniques seem to range from humiliation to serious and life threating.

I would have never thought hazing reached all the way back into history. Most people including I thought that it started by movies and other popular media with films like Animal House and others. These aspects of popular culture just made hazing popular instead of starting this practice and made people aware of hazing.

These findings show that hazing is a bigger issue than most people thought.

Hazing is an issue throughout most college campuses, and it can be hard to stop for most people. Teachers, staff, and even students are fed up with hazing. They all see it as outdated, useless, and above all stupid. Most of these fraternities say they do it for “good” reasons like unity, brotherhood, and other “reasons”. Overall, hazing is just bad in general and one that’s has a deep history.

Hazing has been an issue throughout history. Its roots are deep within college history and it may seem hard to dig up it and stop it. However, there are ways to stop hazing, but it will take time. As history repeats itself and we could reach a point where hazing could stop, but it will take time.

Ruth Sterner. “The History of Hazing in American Higher Education”. Oregon State University

Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers

Jim Mandelaro. “Hazing continues despite efforts to change”. USA Today. January 12,2014