There’s a New Bill in Virginia Aimed at Hazing. Here’s What UVA Is Already Doing.

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Last month, lawmakers in Virginia overwhelmingly passed a bill known as “Adam’s Law.”

The legislation is named for Adam Oakes, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University who died of an alcohol overdose last year while pledging a fraternity. The new law will require schools in Virginia to offer anti-hazing training to student groups. Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has said he supports strengthening anti-hazing laws, must sign the bill for it to become law.

The University of Virginia is already offering anti-hazing programming through the Department of Student Health and Wellness’ Gordie Center, named for Lynn Gordon Bailey Jr., an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder who died of alcohol overdose during a fraternity hazing event in 2004.

UVA Today reached out via email to Susie Bruce, the director of the Gordie Center, to learn more about what UVA is doing to prevent hazing, and what students and parents can do to prevent the dangerous and sometimes-deadly practice.

Q. Can you explain what hazing is?

A. Hazing is generally defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Hazing has existed for hundreds of years, but the first documented, alcohol-related hazing death in the U.S. didn’t occur until 1940.

Q. Does it always involve alcohol or other substances?

A. No, not always. But the most frequently reported form of college hazing is participating in drinking games, such as consuming a fifth of liquor (17 drinks). This combination leads to numerous injuries needing medical treatment, or death. Since January 2000, 101 people have lost their lives due to hazing activities in the U.S. Of those, 60 were related to substance use, nearly always alcohol.

Coercing people to drink intensifies the power differential between hazers and those being hazed, increasing the odds that hazing victims will comply with unreasonable or dangerous requests. Even small amounts of intoxicating substances impair judgment, which makes it more likely that students will engage in risky behaviors they would never do otherwise.

Q. What are some other components of hazing?

A. Secrecy is one. The hazers know what will happen, while those being hazed are blind to the actual risks. Hazing strategies such as kidnapping, blindfolding or other forms of sensory deprivation are used to produce anxiety in a misguided attempt to promote group loyalty and bonding.

Students want to feel like they worked hard to achieve the privilege of being part of a group, and one of the most persistent challenges in ending hazing is that many students believe hazing victims have willingly agreed to the hazing. But the psychology of hazing makes consent nearly impossible. How can someone consent to an activity when the details are purposefully hidden from them? And, of course, a person cannot consent when intoxicated or high or make informed decisions about potential risk.

Considering the COVID-related social restrictions of the past two years, both first-year and returning students may feel even greater pressure to endure hazing in order to find a place of belonging.

Q. What does the Gordie Center do to combat hazing and substance misuse, and how does it engage with Greek organizations on Grounds to keep people safe?

A. Simply put, we are trying to create a culture where hazing is not acceptable. We do this by raising awareness of the extent and range of hazing behaviors, supporting strong anti-hazing policies and sanctions for violations, delivering research-based education programs to meet students where they are, and providing guidance in healthy team building. We partner with students in everything we do by engaging volunteers and conducting focus groups to learn about student needs and engagement strategies.

We provide programs for resident advisers just prior to fraternity and sorority recruitment, and give numerous presentations to chapters from all four Greek councils and to athletic teams, here at UVA and nationally.

It’s vitally important for bystanders to understand the importance of closely monitoring friends for signs of overdose and never leaving anyone alone to “sleep it off.” The graphic for signs of alcohol overdose was created by UVA students and is widely disseminated across Grounds.

It outlines the following signs of an alcohol overdose:

P – puking while passed out
U – unresponsive to pinch or shaking
B – breathing is irregular, slow, shallow, or has stopped
S – skin is blue, cold or clammy. If the person has darker skin, check their lips or nailbeds to see if they are getting pale.
Our research shows that awareness of the signs of overdose doubles among first-year students from August to October. Colleges across the country purchase our educational materials for use on their campuses.

Q. Is hazing limited to fraternities, or does it happen in sororities too?

A. Hazing can happen to anyone and is all too common among college students, with 55% of those involved in clubs, teams and organizations experiencing hazing. Nearly three-quarters of college student-athletes experience hazing while in college, which is slightly higher than those who experience hazing in fraternities and sororities. Nearly half of college students report hazing experiences while in high school and, as a result, many students expect to be hazed in college.

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