UMaine study examines the role of gender in high school hazing

A new study from researchers in the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development found that a hazing prevention workshop for high school athletes was effective at increasing students’ knowledge of hazing and making them more receptive to prevention measures. In interviews with participants, the researchers also found gendered perceptions and themes of power and status around issues of hazing and prevention.

Hazing is defined as any activity that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers a person who joins or participates in a group, such as a team or club, regardless of whether the person willingly participates in the activity.

Professor of higher education Elizabeth Allan, assistant professor of higher education Leah Hakkola, and doctoral student David Kerschner conducted the study with sports teams at two high schools in Maine — one urban and one rural.

The high school athletes and select members of the school staff, including counselors, athletic directors, principals, teachers and coaches completed a pre-workshop survey to gauge their knowledge of hazing and hazing prevention. The training workshop was approximately 75 minutes, and consisted of a guided discussion surrounding the short documentary “We Don’t Haze.” Participants then completed a second, post-workshop survey to see if there was any change in their understanding of hazing and hazing prevention. The research team also followed up at each school one to two months after the workshop for focus groups with a smaller number of students.

“Focus groups were an important component to our study as we wanted to gain a better understanding of the knowledge and skills that students learned from participating in this pilot initiative. We also aimed to examine students’ perceptions of how power and gender may have influenced hazing behavior and to identify elements of the program that were perceived to be most impactful,” the researchers write.

The survey results showed that the workshop had a statistically significant impact for both male and female students in terms of knowledge about hazing, attitudes and perceptions of hazing, and knowledge about hazing prevention strategies. However, for staff members the results showed a statistically significant change in hazing knowledge, but not for attitudes and perceptions or hazing prevention knowledge, although there was movement in a positive direction for both of those categories.

In the focus groups, students discussed power in relation to hazing as being “associated with status, position, and leadership.” However, some students suggested that power dynamics don’t always contribute to hazing behaviors. For instance, members of a soccer team at one school said that seniors used “their power to prevent hazing.”

The discussion of gender was similarly mixed, with participants at one school saying they did not feel there was any difference in hazing behavior between genders. A majority of participants at the other school said they thought hazing occurred more among boys than girls. That group also chalked up perceived differences in hazing behaviors between genders to issues of identity and personality.

Although most hazing studies have focused on behaviors that occur on college campuses, Allan, Hakkola and Kerschner previously published a separate article describing their research with high schools. Both articles were made possible by a 2016 College of Education and Human Development Research Seed Grant.

In the latest article, the researchers offer some recommendations for high school staff, especially counselors, including ways to incorporate research and intervention strategies into their work.

“Having a policy in handbooks is not enough,” they write. “Educators must consider additional strategies for shifting hazing attitudes and behaviors. Given their knowledge of the school climate and relationships with individual students and colleagues associated with co-curricular activities, school counselors are well positioned to advocate for more comprehensive and research-informed prevention at the school level.”

The study, “High School Hazing Prevention and Gender: Implications for School Counselors” is available online from the Journal of School Counseling.

Contact: Casey Kelly,