Hazing and Miss America

I’m breaking my own rule of commenting on something before all the facts are out.  Because it’s National Hazing Prevention Week, and this story is very timely.

Miss America is in some hot water.

I’m not a big fan or supporter of the Miss America pageant, and think it’s kinda silly.  But, it’s an institution in our culture and has a strong following.

It was revealed earlier in the week that the recent winner of Miss America - Kira Kazantsev 
 – was removed from her sorority (Alpha Phi at Hofstra) because of some behavior related to hazing.  She claims she was removed for an inappropriate joke about hazing that was always intended to be only a joke.

She admits she hazed pledges in her sorority, but to a “lesser” extent than some media reports.  She was also hazed, and admits that it was a part of the culture of the organization (and the entire Greek community at Hofstra). 

It does appear to me that she still has some learning to do when it comes to the impact of hazing and why it should never be tolerated, no matter how severe.

Now, what I’ve seen in social media (and from many professionals in fraternity and sorority life) is a take-down of this young woman for these actions.  The internet outrage machine is calling for her crown.

Let’s remember some key things.

There are people who work in the fraternity and sorority industry who were hazed, and hazed pledges themselves.  There are speakers and writers who oppose hazing now because of their own stories of falling victim to a culture of hazing.  You’re reading one right now.

The line that connects all of these stories is regret.  And realization.  Realization that hazing is not harmless fun, but can be damaging instead.  Realization that hazing eats away at a fraternity culture and creates the very apathy it supposedly solves.  This realization may come through quiet reflection, or a loud embarrassing spectacle.  This realization may come at age 18, or at age 23, or much later.

There is an educational journey in regards to hazing and that is why events like National Hazing Prevention Week exist.  We accept that convincing undergrads who are currently living in a hazing culture to change is hard and time-consuming work. 

And now we have a very public situation in which a young woman is going through that same education (and yes, sometimes it has to put right in front of one’s face in order for it to click), and the public reaction doesn't seem very patient.  True – she was a hazer.  True – she made big mistakes.  Perhaps true – her integrity isn’t as strong as advertised.

Let’s remember that hazing – namely in high school and college – is largely an act committed by young people who are ignorant of the impact (less so than a decade ago, but still ignorant).  Obviously the goal is for hazing never to occur.  But where it does, most involved are not depraved or willfully malevolent.  Most just don’t get it, but can get it, and that’s where we do our work.  We are an industry of educators, are we not?

Maybe that calls on us to rise above the indignation Olympics that always accompany stories like these.

Perhaps more information will come that will change my mind, but until then, I’m going to accept Ms. Kazantsev’s comments about now including hazing prevention in her platform as truth.  From her blog:
Now that I’m 2 years removed from that experience at the sorority, I’ve learned what healthy relationships are, and can better speak to what young girls entering college should avoid and it has further developed my platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence.”
I’m also proud to say that Alpha Phi Theta Mu of Hofstra University is an upstanding organization that has completely abandoned these practices and I’m incredibly proud of the work they do as an organization.

She can do a whole lot of good on this issue, and I’m interested to see her try.  Maybe she can start with the Miss America Organization itself, who issued a very disappointing statement that didn’t seem to acknowledge the gravity of the hazing issue. 

I’m not sure how I wanted the Miss America Organization to respond, but what they’ve done so far is pretty empty.  Should they fire her?  Let’s imagine they did.  It would send a message, but probably not a lasting one.  The issue may be better served by pressing her throughout this year to carry the anti-hazing message wherever she goes. 

Perhaps, we anti-hazing advocates found a new ally in the strangest of places, and she wears a crown.


  1. I agree with everything you've said here. I just think it would be slightly stronger if you referred to new members as new members, and not as pledges.

  2. I have a few concerns with this post.

    While I appreciate this post's message about learning from mistakes and its stance against hazing, I do not agree with the message that this post sends to people who have hazed, who do haze, and to potential new members of the Greek community. There is a difference between being hazed... and being hazed and then hazing other people. I am tired of student affairs professionals relying back on the whole "our students just aren't 'there' yet" excuse. You're right. She wasn't, and it sounds like she still isn't, in a place to understand the severity of her actions and hazing. That's where educational consequences come into play. This happened last year. LAST YEAR! They gave the Miss America crown to someone who had her lifetime membership taken away after a hazing investigation. That is serious.

    Take away the crown. Consequences aren't just educational for the person involved. Taking away her crown is educational for PNMs, current members, and alumni of Greek organizations. It sends a message of intolerance, importance, and severity. It begins a conversation of intolerance for organizations who don't "get it" yet.

    This happens all too often with students and organizations. We are quick to say that they "just aren't developmentally ready to understand their actions" and then allow them to continue along their current path with little education or consequences. We can promote development among students through educational consequences.

    Maybe I'm alone on this stance, but this article really rubbed me the wrong way.

  3. John,

    I truly appreciate your blog about this issue. I say much the same thing in my speech to college students about hazing: "I used to think that hazers were evil people, and now I just believe they are people who were hazed. When you are immersed in a culture that participates in these kinds of activities, it can be difficult to see the inherent problem with them. To you, this is just the way things are done here."

    It often takes an intervention of some sort to wake students up to the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, this often comes in the form of a serious injury or even a death, but it can also come from unwanted media attention, a challenge from another student outside the organization (bystander behavior), media attention on a problem from somewhere else including another campus, an issue in the NFL or even a Miss America scandal. I personally have witnessed transformations in many students after hearing a speaker or attending UIFI or another leadership program.

    Blaming and shaming people and calling them "evil" rarely results in their desire to change, and often further entrenches them into their own stance that "you just don't understand." Firing people (or de-crowning them as the case may be) is a great CYA strategy, but it also doesn't solve the problem. Sometimes people need to be fired because they are a contributing factor to the problem, but sometimes, if they have learned some lessons, they can be an important part of the solution. Neither Kira nor the Miss America organization have proven so far that they are willing to fully take responsibility and use their mighty platform to make a real difference on this issue, but I am still hopeful that they could, and I am willing to give them the chance to try.

    I wrote an article for this year's NHPW Resource Guide from HazingPrevention.Org that deals in part with what has been discussed here. It can be downloaded on the HPO website: http://hazingprevention.org/home/prevention/national-hazing-prevention-week/

    Tracy Maxwell, Founder, HazingPrevention.Org
    CAMPUSPEAK Speaker, A Conversation About Hazing

  4. I want to add that I wrote a similarly themed article for this year's NHPW Resource Guide. You can download it here: http://hazingprevention.org/home/prevention/national-hazing-prevention-week/

  5. I am a member of the greek community at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I know that our University has a no hazing policy and that it is not tolerated at all. Miss America is supposed to exemplify the ideals and morals of a true woman in America. By admitting to taking part in hazing, Miss America has shown that the organization is not too worried about the well being of college students looking to be part of an organization.