Hazing under fire after excessive violence at student associations

The phenomenon of hazing is once again under fire. Soon-to-be members of six fraternities in Amsterdam were mistreated and humiliated during the traditional hazing rituals. Older students allegedly punched and kicked them in the face, reports Het Parool newspaper. Their actions resulted in welts, wounds, bruises, and mental health problems for the newcomers. The six groups are part of the Amsterdamsch Studenten Corps and the Amsterdamsche Vrouwen Studenten Vereeniging (ASC/AVSV). As a result, the boards of these organisations have banned hazing altogether. After a slew of earlier incidents at student associations around the country, going back two centuries, the new problems fired up the discussion about hazing: Why would some people willingly take part in this?

“People want to belong to groups,” explains social psychology lecturer and researcher Liesbeth Mann from the University of Amsterdam. Students are young, entering a new phase of life, looking for new friends and searching to belong during adolescence, a difficult time in many people’s lives. Hazing is seen as the ultimate test that potential members have to pass during their introduction into a new group. Sleep deprivation, excessive alcohol consumption, bullying and physically exhausting tasks seem to be part of this. “But after that, you really belong. If you do something that requires a lot of effort, you will also be rewarded by what you get in return,” explains Mann. However, in case of humiliation or violence, hazing goes too far, says Mann. She conducted research into the effects of humiliation during hazing. “When people feel humiliated, other processes come to the fore. Humiliation is a complex emotion and consists of feelings of shame and anger. All these negative emotions do not lead to more togetherness,” she adds.

Kamernet website explains that not all student associations practice hazing; it’s mostly a tradition among the ‘elite’ associations, which aim to bring together tomorrow’s leaders. Of course, the introduction period will also allow new members to meet new friends, although they don’t have a choice of who they want to hang out with. The introduction period can last from a few days to two weeks, although for the rest of the year, new members will have to do menial tasks at the fraternity headquarters and in their student houses, usually owned by the student associations.

This is not the first time that hazing has gotten out of hand. Het Parool lists some earlier incidents: in 2016, three aspiring members ended up in the hospital after they had to swim in the canals and sleep in a rubbish dump. In 1997, an 18-year-old student in Groningen died after drinking a liter of gin. In Belgium, a 20-year-old student died in 2018 after thirty hours of humiliation and suffering, including drinking 3 liters of fish oil and sitting outside naked and wet.

A major problem with this abuse is the culture of silence that prevails in associations. In the past, aspiring members at ASC were even required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That has now been abolished, but according to the board, there is a dangerous culture of silence among the fraternities. In fact, the association’s board is having trouble keeping its own fraternities under control, it seems. “Students should have a sense of responsibility about what is permissible and inadmissible behaviour,” says Jack Koopman, a representative of the ASC/AVSV associations, to RTL Nieuws. “But apparently not everyone realizes this. It’s sad that students who do take a responsible attitude suffer from the decision to ban hazing. Yet this is necessary.”

According to the association, the board wants to send out a clear and strong message that there is no place for such behaviour. However, how can the board ensure that hazing does not get out of hand? Every year, Arjaan Wit, associate professor at Leiden University who specializes in group dynamics, advises student associations on social safety and group dynamics during hazing. “There must be at least two or three people within a team in power, to ensure a healthy critical eye.” According to Wit, the risk of abuse is greater if the people in power consist of like-minded people, for example two friends. He therefore advises putting together a diverse team. According to Wit, three aspects are important to create a group feeling: solidarity, equality and proximity. Clearly, in these excessive cases, these three aspects are hard to find.

Written by Raphael Vieira