Smoking Out Hazing

Note: This post was first written for Phi Delta Theta and published in September 2010 at their blog: (without question one of the best blogs in the fraternity world).  I wanted to give new life to this essay in honor of National Hazing Prevention Week 2012.  Some passages have been updated and revised.

The other day I was flying back home and while sitting on the plane, I noticed the “no smoking” signs all over the cabin.  This wasn’t a new observation, but I stopped to think about what it must have been like when smoking was allowed on airplanes.  Imagine the guy next to you, sharing your armrest, smoking a half a pack between takeoff and landing.  And you couldn’t escape.  You just had to deal with it.  That’s the way smoking was all over our country not that long ago.  Restaurants, grocery stores, taxi cabs, and hotels were filled with smoke.

And now?  Light up within 100 yards of a nonsmoker and you’re treated like you have the plague.  The only safe place for smokers to go is out behind a building right next to the dumpster.  It is safe to say that most places in our society have grown intolerant of smoking, and those who choose to do it are often isolated.  Smoking still takes place, and consumption levels are still high.  There is just a different attitude toward the practice, especially among young people.

I believe this change over the last decade or so was accelerated by an extraordinary anti-smoking campaign, called “The Truth”.  You have probably seen their commercials, one of which shows a group of activists carrying megaphones lining hundreds of body bags on the street below the offices of tobacco executives.  This campaign has been effective in reducing smoking – especially in young people – because instead of focusing only on the health reasons, it turns nonsmokers into rebellious youth sticking it to the “man” (tobacco companies).  Rebellion has always been a well-received message amongst teens!

The campaign is also effective because it involves young people talking to other young people.  Peer to peer education works.

So what does this have to do with hazing?  From my observation, the vast majority of anti-hazing messages that are delivered to college students come from much older adults.  It feels like a parent telling their child to “stop doing that” because “I know better than you.”  While we’ve made strides against hazing, there certainly hasn’t been the same momentum like we’ve seen against smoking.  We need acceleration.

Let me offer a vision.  What if fraternity and sorority undergraduate members became the chief activists against hazing in our society and brought that message to their brothers and sisters, as well as their peers in sports, the marching band, or other clubs on campus? 

Let’s take it one step further.  Where I live in Indiana, there have been some high-profile hazing incidents in the high schools.  What if fraternity and sorority members were invited into high schools to educate students about the dangers of hazing?

We understand hazing because it has been a vicious scar on our legacy.  So, let's make amends by being the world leaders against it. 

The messaging could be similar to that of “The Truth” campaign – hazing offers power-hungry meatheads the chance to bully others, and we’re not going to take it anymore!

Perhaps this vision is not yet within reach.  What is within reach is your personal influence within your own chapter.  It’s not enough to be quietly against hazing and just hope that it will go away.  I tried that approach, and it didn’t work.  If you want to see hazing eliminated, you need to pound the pavement and work against it.  Find like-minded members and start a rally within your own organization.  Put the “no hazing” signs right next to the “no smoking” ones.

Hazers are like tobacco executives – getting compensated for promoting an unsafe practice.  Treat them as such.  Turn the chapter against them.  The ones who matter will allow themselves to change.

Imagine if the one place on a college campus where a person could know for sure that they would be safe from hazing was your fraternity.  Or any fraternity.

It’s great to be against hazing.  It’s better to make sure it has no place in your fraternity.  Working to eradicate it from our society is even better than that.  Let’s stop reacting to this issue and start leading.   

Grab your megaphones.


  1. John...I love this. I have made the same analogy, except with the fight against drunk driving. We need to change not only attitudes, but the environment to the point that it is unacceptable to everyone. As always, thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you, This will make a lot of parents more supportive of their sons becoming members, pledging, in light of the recent hazing deaths. Parents supporting is a relief mentally, worrying is counter productive.