Monday, January 28, 2013

Opinion: Notion of hazing as part of team bonding antiquated

By Kyle Baillie

The word “hazing” often makes people think the worst (their imaginations usually aided by Hollywood storylines), and commenting on situations like that of the Dalhousie University Women’s Hockey team is not to be taken lightly. Hazing situations like this are often layered with complexities, veils of misinformation and perceived issues of loyalty that evoke strong emotional responses from both the people involved and the public.

One thing we can all agree on is that hazing is not a healthy or positive experience for any team or individual. Along with bullying, hazing has become a topic of hot discussion. However, what is not being discussed is how to prevent hazing in the first place.

One of the problems is that as Canadians, we have generally taken a laissez-faire approach to institutionalized hazing. In contrast, many American states have made hazing a criminal offense – a significant deterrent in and of itself. Additionally, intercollegiate sports agencies in the U.S., notably the NCAA, have reacted strongly against hazing, going as far as creating policies and educational programs to prevent it. We have yet to take such steps in Canada, and so the issue of hazing prevention is often left to individual organizations or institutions.

But while it is easy to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on hazing, enforcement without education and an examination of organizational culture and values is half-hearted at best. We need to start asking ourselves: Why do teams haze new members? How can we appropriately socialize the next generation of student athletes? Can’t we do better?

The answer is we can do better, and we must. It needs to start with the administration and be a constant and consistent message from coaches to players. Hazing prevention starts with culture and values. Hazing is only acceptable if the culture allows it.

At Douglas College we value new members and treat them the way we want to be treated. We don’t accept the antiquated notion that hazing is a form of team bonding or development. Our Royals rites of passage include volunteering at college and community functions, running youth clinics in the local community, spending countless hours in study hall and on the team bus, team lunches and dinners, hard practices and games where we give everything we have and a little more.

Our values include honouring each other and what we each bring to the team to make it unique. We value sacrificing ourselves for our teammates. We hold each other accountable, and when we accomplish great things together, we celebrate.

Hazing is what happens in the absence of true team development and growth. It is the product of a lack of culture and values that would provide something more substantial to student athletes. By setting clear expectations, creating a culture that reinforces positive behaviour and development, and sharing values, we can eliminate the circumstances that tacitly permit and encourage hazing.

Kyle Baillie is the Director of the Centre for Campus Life and Athletics at Douglas College.

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