The stories of injurious initiation ceremonies within Dublin University Boat Club may not sound totally alien to many of the College’s students. Sports clubs – albeit more in the US than here – are sometimes known for such practices, and drinking and conforming is part and parcel of joining a club for some members. Anyone who has belonged to a club will know that fitting into the dressing room is vital.
No team wants to be described as a collection of individuals. The bond between teammates can be a powerful thing, and the best sides will usually be those with a certain uniformity of thought and approach. It’s important to bear this in mind in a discussion of the practice of hazing. Many sports clubs – and it’s likely the Boat Club is among them – may view hazing as an integral part of bonding. In order to be properly part of the club, it can be necessary to go through something gruelling – perhaps humiliating and possibly even dangerous. You will have sacrificed enough to be trusted by the others. You will have a shared, potentially traumatic experience with them that will bring you all closer together.
For some members of the Boat Club, hazing might not seem like a very big deal. It’s something unpleasant to have to go through but perhaps it is also thrilling and the feeling of solidarity at the end may make it all worth it.
It’s not difficult, in this light, to understand how a culture of hazing seems to have embedded itself within the Boat Club, and perhaps within other clubs as well. For the older people, the hazers, it might all seem like a bit of fun. It can be a rite of passage that they had to go through and now it’s the turn of the novices.
It’s exclusionary to those terrified by vague threats, bizarre shopping lists and whispers of drunken blackouts. If you haven’t been hazed, you’re not fully part of the club – you haven’t passed the litmus test
The problem is that hazing is not, by any normal metric, a healthy way of creating team spirit. It’s hardly earth-shattering to point out that it’s dangerous – both physically and psychologically. Pressuring eager novices into downing cans and spirits is asking for trouble, and being humiliated into doing things nobody would ever want to will be a psychologically challenging experience for anyone.
Hazing isn’t only unfair, however, on those who attend: it’s also, by definition, exclusionary to those terrified by vague threats, bizarre shopping lists and whispers of drunken blackouts. If you haven’t been hazed, you’re not fully part of the club – you haven’t passed the litmus test. This may scare off members who are keen to play the sport but are less keen on the initiation ceremony. This is bad for the club, which could lose a potentially valuable member and it’s bad for the individual who misses out on a potentially valuable experience.
This is a cultural problem. From the outside, hazing may seem harsh and unusual, but its existence shows how easy it is to lose perspective on it, once you’re inside the bubble. And it’s unlikely that these practices are confined to Dublin University Boat Club. Rumours abound over different initiation practices among clubs and societies. Indeed, it was only a few months ago that students bidding to become first-year representatives for Dublin City University’s (DCU) were forced, at the society’s EGM, either to break up with their partners over the phone or, if they were single, to “shift” someone else at the EGM.
It seems bizarre that in this day and age such practices are deemed necessary by any club. Trinity’s rowers invest hundreds of hours into their craft. Becoming a rower means early-morning, gruelling training sessions on the Liffey and intense competition and always side by side your teammates. So why the need to whip novices with canes and press them to drink in order to create group unity?
You will have a shared, potentially traumatic experience with them that will bring you all closer together
One would hope that, in light of these revelations, a reconsideration of initiation procedures would occur. For the College, though, the fact that this has gone on so long is not a great look. At the AGM of Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC) in October, Head of Trinity Sport Michelle Tanner urged that “if any of you notice anything – any unsavoury behaviour, initiations or hazings that are often associated with sport – to bring it to our attention. You can do that in confidence”. It doesn’t seem that anyone brought it to her attention – and little wonder.
People who have been hazed tend to be reluctant to talk about it, and for those bothered by it enough to speak out there do not seem to exist very clear channels for doing so. The clubs aren’t likely to listen and complaints to the Junior Dean don’t allow for anonymity. Trinity Sport needs to create a mechanism for processing complaints and acting on them. This would go a long to stopping clubs from being so brazen in their hazing.
Hazing is a common practice and feigning surprise that this is the reality is pointless. Clubs need to realise that hazing is counterproductive and destructive, and that can only happen when a light is shone on it. From inside the club, it may seem like a fairly harmless and fun tradition. People coming forward and opening a dialogue about hazing, as well as stories such as the one appearing in this newspaper, help to dispel this fantasy and make people realise the dangers and follies of hazing, hopefully helping to get rid of them for good.