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The Milton Measure

Hazing Laws Cause Controversy at Milton

by Natalie Perlov on Friday, October 25th, 2013

We sign innumerable forms during our time at Milton. From the academic integrity contracts to the permission slips for field trips, form-signing seems to have become a substitute for common sense and ethical behavior. A hasty signature on a document that is rarely read attentively is supposed to have the power of directing the signature’s owner to making correct decisions. As flawed as this argument is, it becomes even more questionable when the form leaves room for interpretation and the definitions are less than precise.

The hazing form, considered to be one of the most important forms we sign during the year, declares what hazing is in the eyes of the state and how it will not be permitted at Milton Academy. However, how clearly is hazing defined? The term seems black and white only to the writer of the form. Advisor discussions and classes that center on the topic of hazing find more of a grey area. For one student, a given scenario is clearly hazing; for another, it represents nothing more than a well-intended (even if sometimes ill-humored) prank. The line between a joke and a legal offense often becomes blurred, and we are advised to err on the safe side.

A practical joke can range from a “prank call” to a sudden surprise. Pranks are meant in good spirit, and they are designed as little friendly ruses for a couple of laughs and stories to reflect on later. Often, the relief one gets from realizing that a dangerous or startling situation is only a prank outweighs the the temporary uncertainty or discomfort of the moment.

On the other hand, hazing can be physically or psychologically destructive. It may demand submission and humiliation, cause significant pain, or end in devastating consequences. Not many would argue the need to erase forced drinking as a ritual to gain fraternity rights. There is little doubt that imposed sleeplessness until extreme physical exhaustion or exposure to freezing weather or direct violence should be punished and never allowed to happen again. Acceptance to a community, be it a dorm, a frat, or a club, should focus on moral achievements, example setting, vision, and the ability to produce meaningful change. Instead, acceptance is often based on silly tasks, humiliating requests, and damaging actions. Many “hazers” justify their actions with the rationale that they were hazed before, so when they come of age, they have the right to continue the harmful tradition. However, laws and a changed perception of hazing mean that people now cannot do unto others as their predecessors have done unto them. This is the source of much hazing of recent times, and traditions that may now be considered hazing are often hard habits to break.

However, a well-defined line does not exist to separate a joke from a truly offensive or dangerous act. The beloved tradition of freshmen boys kissing senior girls during dorm caroling, for example, was labeled inappropriate, although few freshmen had complained about the tradition and many had even considered it fun. The replacement tradition of senior boys kissing senior girls is, quite possibly, even worse. We absolutely must not accept true hazing, but what about all the other “grey” situations? What is the effect of teaching children to restrain themselves from every action that could potentially be perceived as insulting by an overly sensitive person? Ought we learn from a very young age that we must be awfully careful about whatever we say or do? Should we discourage spontaneity, which is often linked to wrongdoing? Where does the balance lie?

Undoubtedly, we should condemn hazing. Judging from our community, hazing for the most part is not an issue. At the same time, we have an obligation to allow free form of expression and, if doing so includes an occasional prank, we do not need to overreact. While the state requires students to sign the hazing form, Milton should not overstate the definition of hazing but instead allow students to feel more confident in their relationships.

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Posted by Natalie Perlov on Oct 25 2013. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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