MCPS Needs to Extend Recently Implemented Hazing Precautions


Graphic By William Gangnath

In response to recent hazing allegations and then charges for five JV football players at Damascus, all athletic directors held a meeting with fall athletes that reviewed MCPS hazing policies.

Editorial Board

In light of an incident at Damascus High School (HS) where members of the JV football team were allegedly sodomized with a broomstick as part of a hazing ritual, MCPS has finally begun addressing hazing and its severity as there have been minimal efforts to combat hazing in the past.

The recent presentations countywide have been a good step at addressing hazing. To prevent incidents of this nature from happening again, MCPS should also require athletes to sign a pledge at the beginning of every sports season stating they know what hazing is, the severity of hazing, the repercussions and consequences of hazing and the repercussions and consequences of passively being involved in hazing as an onlooker.

A pledge will go one step further to ensure students are educated and know when joking around and teasing have gone too far. The goal of a written pledge is to increase the likelihood that students will follow through with reporting any type of hazing and also hold bystanders accountable so that they are more likely to report anything they hear about or see, instead of turning a blind eye.

Results from the National Study on Student Hazing, where over 11,400 students on 53 college campuses around the U.S. were surveyed, revealed that 47 percent reported being subject to behaviors that qualify as hazing. Of that almost 50 percent only eight percent were willing to refer to it as such, attesting to the fact that the majority of students are unaware of what behaviors and actions qualify as hazing. Despite this fact, prior to the incident at Damascus HS, there was little hazing education or prevention plans communicated to student athletes or any member of the student body. The only county-sanctioned requirement was for teachers and coaches to complete a compliance training that consisted of interactive slides on a computer and watching modules about all areas of student health and safety, with a small portion about hazing within athletics.

Now, the compliance training is still required, but athletes are shown a presentation about MCPS’ ‘R.A.I.S.E’ core values, which consist of respect and sportsmanship, academic excellence, integrity and character, spirited and safe competition and equity and access. In the presentation, hazing is defined, examples of hazing are given, the consequences of hazing are listed and instructions on how to report hazing are described.

While this presentation contains a lot of viable, important information, it is not enough to combat hazing on its own. The presentation lacks a way to get students to commit to abiding by the anti-hazing policies it describes because they’re merely listening; there is no action involved.

If students were required to sign a pledge after taking in all of the information stated in the presentation, they would be more likely to opt out of participating in hazing because there is a physical record of them committing to stopping hazing. The “rule of commitment” corroborates this idea that an individual is more likely to feel obligated to commit to an idea they have made public because of social expectations.

Results from a 2015 study on accountability by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that people have a 65 percent chance of completing a goal if you have made a commitment to someone else about it. And, chances of success increase up to 95 percent if there are specific accountability appointments with the person to whom you made a commitment to.

When taking the hazing pledge, student athletes will be making a commitment to the school not to haze anyone and to stop others from hazing to the best of their ability. The meeting where the hazing presentations are given can serve as the accountability appointment.

While signing the pledge and attending the meetings at the beginning of each season for athletes who play sports in the fall, winter and spring may seem repetitive, the frequency will ingrain the severity of hazing and its dire consequences in students’ minds, and the repetition of the same information will guarantee students have retained all the information presented.

While not all hazing may come in the form of rape as currently alleged in the criminal charges against the five Damascus JV football players, it is imperative that each case be taken seriously so that smaller cases do not escalate into something more dangerous and hazing does not become normalized. Students must recognize the cruelty involved in any act of hazing so that it can be completely removed from MCPS and schools everywhere. A mandatory pledge will help do just that.