The Hazing Spectrum: Recognizing Acts of Hazing

September 26, 2023

National studies of student hazing have found that more than half of college students associated with clubs, teams or organizations experience hazing. Yet less than 10% of those who experience hazing actually call the activity an act of hazing. It is also estimated that 95% of hazing incidents go unreported. Hazing is not limited to fraternities, sororities or athletics. It also occurs in performing arts groups, honor societies, student government organizations, etc.

Most educational institutions include hazing in their disciplinary procedures, however, definitions of hazing can vary substantially by institution. In addition, hazing is currently considered a crime in 44 states. Despite this, there is no U.S. agency responsible for tracking hazing incidents, injuries or deaths.

The Difference Between Hazing and Bullying

StopHazing defines hazing as an activity expected of someone in order to join or participate in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers the person, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate. The activity must also occur in a group context.

Hazing is not the same as bullying. Bullying is an act of aggression with the goal of intentionally hurting a person in some way. Hazing can often hurt a person too, but harm is not the main goal. The goal of hazing is initiating a person into a group, while the goal of bullying is to keep a person out of the group.

The Hazing Spectrum

The hazing incidents that make the national news circuit are typically the most extreme and involve the forced consumption of alcohol, physical assault, and even death. These hazing incidents are certainly severe and deserving of attention. However, there is an entire spectrum of hazing activities that are often not recognized as hazing by organizations, the victim or third parties.

The hazing spectrum includes three types of incidents: intimidation or subtle, harassment, and violent.

  • Intimidation or subtle hazing is the least recognized form of hazing and occurs the most often. Subtle hazing includes acts such as line ups, drills, tests, name calling, scavenger hunts, wearing specific clothing and social isolation.
  • Harassment hazing is best described as “mid-tier” hazing. Harassment hazing is neither the most frequent nor the most recognized. It includes acts such as verbal abuse, threats, sleep deprivation, humiliation, and personal servitude.
  • Violent hazing includes acts such as forced consumption of alcohol or drugs, physical abuse, forced ingestion of substances, illegal activities, and water intoxication. Violent hazing is the most recognizable form of hazing but it does not occur frequently.

Questions to Assess Whether an Activity is Hazing

To determine whether an activity is hazing, consider the following questions:

  • Does the activity promote the values of the organization?
  • Is it an activity that all members would do?
  • Would an organization’s advisor, national headquarters, governing council or university administration approve of the activity?
  • Is the activity safe?
  • Would parents, university staff, or other third parties be welcome to attend the activity?

If the answer to any of the above questions is “no,” then the activity likely falls within the hazing spectrum and should be avoided.

Actions Students and Organizations Can Take

Students and organizations should familiarize themselves with both the organization and university’s anti-hazing policies, as well as state and local hazing laws.

If someone is injured or engaging an illegal activity, call 911 immediately. If it is not an emergency situation, report the hazing activity to the university via the Student Affairs Office, Fraternity and Sorority Life Office, or Campus Security or Police.

If the hazing activity involves a fraternity or sorority, students can also contact the Anti-Hazing Hotline at (888) 668-4293 or submit an online report via the Hazing Prevention Network.

In any case, students or organizations that are accused of hazing or the victim of hazing, you should visit our hazing service page for further information. To speak to a member of our team, please contact Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (; 216.736.7217).