Hazing: Violence and Elitism at US Colleges, 1850s-1930s
College hazing can take many forms. These sometimes overt but often clandestine initiation rites include not only acts of injury directed against the body, but also binge drinking and public humiliation. Such procedures range from having to wear degrading clothing on campus to the nocturnal abandonment of intoxicated admission candidates in nearby woods, which has resulted in the death of numerous students. For almost two centuries now, hazing has served as a form of transitional violence that regulates access to prestigious student groups such as fraternities and sororities or specific academic clubs. While more recent incidents have received public attention and have been researched from a sociological standpoint, little is known about the first peak of modern hazing in the decades before World War II. This Habilitation project examines the ambivalent role of initiation practices that demanded degradation before allowing social elevation in the rapidly changing academia of the late 19th and early 20th century. More particularly, the project not only aims to explain the persistence of these rites themselves but more importantly to historicize and nuance how college authorities reacted to this phenomenon, how different student groups understood the function of these practices, how individual students experienced, interpreted, challenged or supported them and how the local, regional and national public perceived hazing.