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What's Western doing about hazing?

New policy and training programs inform students and employees about hazing prevention

People walk near Sam Carver Gymnasium on the Western Washington University campus on Jan. 17, 2022. Hazing has historically occurred in varsity athletics, although most incidents go unspoken. // Photo by Finn Wendt

An email was sent to Western Washington University students including brief information about hazing prevention on Nov. 2, highlighting a new university policy and two educational programs. 

Effective on Oct. 19, an interim policy set the new standard for preventing and responding to hazing at Western.

A required student training and mandatory prevention training for Western employees and student employees both provide information about hazing and how to address it.

The new policy and training programs aim to contribute to the safety of Western students on and off campus, as they provide resources and education about hazing.

The National Study of Student Hazing, led by University of Maine researchers, defines hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Based on responses from over 11,000 post-secondary students on 53 United States campuses, researchers found that students associated with varsity athletics and social fraternities and sororities are most likely to experience hazing. Over half of these students’ experiences included drinking games.

25% of students who experienced hazing said it had occurred in a public space on campus and 95% of students said they did not report the events to campus officials.

Michael Sledge, the executive director of Student Life at Western, said the recent communication and new interim policy are both results of the recently enacted state law, House Bill 1751, which focused on hazing prevention and reduction.

Sledge said the new law and accompanying policy are important, even though there are no recent reports of hazing.

“We have no complaints of hazing on record for the past seven years (our records retention period), and I have no memory of hazing in my 10 years in my position,” Sledge said in an email.

Despite there being no formal record of hazing on campus for the past seven years, student experiences may be different.

Abbi Triou, captain and co-president of the Western women’s rugby team, described hazing as the bullying done by college upperclassmen to initiate younger students into a club, team or organization.

“In the past four years, we shut down pretty much any hazing that comes up,” Triou said. “So, really, it’s not a concern to us.”

However, Triou said there were issues with hazing in the past.

“There were some issues with wanting it to be a sorority-like thing,” she said. “But, when our class joined, we were like, ‘We’re not going to engage in that. That’s not what team sports should be like.’ So, all of our class shut it down. Ever since then, there’s been pretty much no hazing at all on the team, which has been amazing.”

Despite there being no recent hazing on the women’s rugby team, Triou did say she has witnessed hazing at Western but did not want to go into detail.

“There’s a lot of stuff that will happen unseen, under the table [and] with or without consent,” she said.

Triou said the safety of current and future students should be a top priority, and she hopes that Western students never have to experience hazing. She said she thinks the hazing prevention training will be beneficial not only to students who are a part of teams or clubs but to all students at Western.

Sledge said the ultimate goal of the training is to raise students’ awareness about the dangers of hazing and inform students about reporting hazing if they experience it.

“I think the hazing prevention training does a good job of summarizing what we’d like students to know, like understanding what it is, that it’s not OK, and how to report it,” Sledge said.

To share a concern or complaint about hazing, you can contact the Office of Student Life or make an online report.

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