A learning community has a distinctive set of values and qualities meant to support individual growth and development. At Bowdoin, we value traditions, rituals, and rites of passage because they remind community members of their connections to one another and to the past and future of the College; they can build important bonds between groups and individuals. Athletic team or student organization initiations or traditions that attempt to build these bonds between members must do so in an affirming way without coercion or intimidation of any kind. In a learning community such as ours, we value lasting relationships grounded in mutual respect, not artificial connections created through shared humiliation.
Hazing is a form of victimization. Hazing is comprised of a broad range of activities that demonstrate disregard for another person’s dignity or well-being or behaviors that may place another person in danger of physical or psychological discomfort or harm. A level of coercion is often involved, that is those being hazed felt pressure to participate in order to belong to the group or show commitment to group members.
Hazing has dangerous potential to harm individuals, to damage organizations and teams, and to undermine the educational mission of the College and the fundamental values of our learning community.
Maine Law and College Policy
Bowdoin maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding hazing, which is strictly prohibited. As such, no student, student organization, athletic team, other College-recognized group or association shall conduct, condone, aid, or participate as a witness in hazing activities, consensual or not. The College’s policy conforms to Maine law, which defines “injurious hazing” as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of a student enrolled at an institution in this State.” In addition to disciplinary action imposed by the College, students who engage in hazing could find themselves subject to criminal prosecution by legal authorities.
Bowdoin defines hazing more broadly to include any activity that is part of an initiation or admission into a group or is required for continued acceptance in a group and that encompasses one or more of the following:
- physically or psychologically embarrasses, demeans, degrades, abuses, or endangers someone regardless of that person’s willingness to participate;
- categorizes members of the group based upon seniority or standing or otherwise emphasizes the relative power imbalance of newer members;
- involves the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or other substances;
- removes, damages or destroys property;
- results in the disruption of College or community activities, the educational process, or the impairment of academic performance; and/or
- violates a College policy and/or a state law.
This definition pertains to behavior on or off campus and applies whether or not the participants or others perceive the behavior as “voluntary.” The implied or expressed consent of any person toward whom an act of hazing is directed does not relieve any individual, team, or organization from responsibility for their actions nor does the assertion that the conduct or activity was not part of an official organizational or team event or was not officially sanctioned or approved by the organization or team.
Longstanding team or organizational traditions that are carried over from year-to-year sometimes constitute hazing. Discontinuing inappropriate traditions can be especially difficult because of pressure from within the group or from alumni. Such pressure, however, is not an excuse for unacceptable behavior; the College expects students to adhere to College policy and state law.
Some incidents of hazing are more serious than others. Generally, the greater the actual or potential physical or psychological harm, the more severe the hazing. Hazing incidents typically involve perpetrators (the planners and organizers), bystanders (those who participate but were not hazed or involved in the planning or organizing), and victims (those who were hazed). All involved are responsible for their behavior, but consequences will typically differ based on the seriousness of the incident and one’s level of responsibility, planning, or participation.
Violation of the hazing policy may subject an individual and/or recognized organization or team to disciplinary action by the College, either administrative or via the Judicial Board, with penalties up to and including suspension or dismissal for individuals and revocation of organizational recognition and funding or forfeiture of a season or disbandment in the case of a student organization or team.
No policy can address, in specific fashion, all possible activities or situations that may constitute hazing. The determination of whether a particular activity constitutes hazing will depend on the circumstances and context in which that activity is occurring and that determination will be made by the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and/or the Judicial Board.
Examples of mild to more severe hazing include, but are not limited to, any of the following activities that are part of an initiation or admission into a group or required for continued acceptance in a group:
- physical or verbal abuse of any kind or implied threats of physical or verbal abuse;
- branding or other body markings;
- encouraging or requiring a person to consume alcohol, drugs, unusual substances or concoctions;
- encouraging or forcing a student to violate Maine law or College policy such as indecent exposure, theft, or trespassing;
- confining a person or taking a person to an outlying area and dropping him/her off;
- servitude such as encouraging or requiring a person to run personal errands, cook, clean, etc.;
- requiring a shaved head or other haircut;
- stunt or skit nights with degrading, crude, or humiliating games or acts;
- “mind games” or creating real or perceived psychological uneasiness or harm;
- encouraging or requiring public stunts or buffoonery;
- encouraging or requiring the wearing or carrying of apparel or items likely to subject the wearer to embarrassment, ridicule, or harm;
- encouraging or requiring new members to participate in inappropriate scavenger hunts or road trips;
- depriving a person of sleep;
- expecting certain items to always be in one’s possession; and
- requiring new members/rookies to perform duties not assigned to other members. Note: duties like carrying water to practice can be a first year responsibility if other team members have similar responsibilities or all responsibilities are rotated among team members.
Note: Hazing does not include actions or situations that are subsidiary to officially sanctioned and supervised College activities such as athletic training and events, e.g. running extra laps at practice.
All members of the Bowdoin community must take responsibility for considering what does and does not constitute hazing. Student leaders bear particular responsibility for conducting their team, club, or organization in such a manner that welcomes new members without resorting to hazing to build group camaraderie.
Here are some key questions to consider when planning any activity that is part of an initiation or admission into a group or is required for continued acceptance in a group:
- Is a person or group being targeted in an inappropriate way because of status or class year?
- Would you be willing to describe the activity to your own parents, grandparents, the parents of a fellow student, a professor, a dean, the College president, a police officer, or a judge?
- How would you feel if the activity was photographed and appeared in The Orient or on Facebook, YouTube, or local TV?
- Is there a risk of real or even perceived physical or psychological discomfort or harm, i.e. was it demeaning, abusive or dangerous?
- Even if you would not be embarrassed by this activity, can you imagine that someone else might be?
- Could safety be at risk?
- Is there a level of coercion and peer pressure involved?
- Will current members be participating in the activities that new members will be asked to do?
- Do the activities interfere with students’ other activities or obligations (academic, extracurricular, family, religious, etc.)?
- Are alcohol and/or drugs involved?
- Is there a sexual element to the activity?
- Do any activities violate a College policy or federal, state, or local law?
Answering “Yes” or even “Maybe” to any of these questions suggests the activity could be construed as hazing and should therefore be avoided.
When in doubt about whether an activity constitutes hazing, always err on the side of caution and ask a dean, coach, or other College employee who works with student organizations or teams. Engaging in open conversations about hypothetical situations can be especially helpful. Knowledgeable staff can provide additional examples of behaviors that might constitute hazing, examples of positive group-building activities and rites of passage for new members, assistance with organizing legitimate events to foster teamwork and cohesiveness, and other relevant information and support. Students who choose not to consult knowledgeable staff are taking ownership for their actions and responsibility for any consequences.
A review of case studies provides additional insight into what does and what does not constitute hazing.
At Bowdoin, where community members look out and care for one another, students and employees are expected to intervene personally or by calling Security (207-725-3500) or the Brunswick Police (911) 24 hours a day if they encounter activities that put others in physical or psychological harm or discomfort. By stepping up and taking action, bystanders are frequently able to put an end to inappropriate behavior before a bonding activity escalates into a hazing activity. Bowdoin students and employees should notify appropriate College officials (Security, deans, coaches, or other College officials who have responsibilities for student organizations) of any perceived instance of hazing as defined by College policy and/or law and do so as soon as possible so the activity can be stopped or the allegations can be investigated. Reports may be made directly or anonymously by submitting a letter to an appropriate College official or asking a College official that the report remain anonymous.
Education, Prevention and Positive Group Bonding
Bowdoin Athletics, Residential Life, and Student Activities conduct ongoing educational activities to promote positive group identity and prevent hazing.
There are new-member activities that are positive and/or educationally valid that serve to build team, develop unity by connecting students to one another, create a sense of belonging, and bolster self-esteem. Examples include:
- a scavenger hunt or talent show involving all members of an organization or team in which all participants are treated equally and the activities are not embarrassing, demeaning or dangerous;
- a themed dress-up party that is inclusive and not embarrassing or demeaning;
- video game tournaments;
- meals together;
- study sessions;
- community service projects;
- attending other teams’ sporting events;
- movie nights;
- game or trivia nights;
- cooking classes or classes at the Craft’s Center;
- outdoor games—capture the flag, Frisbee, etc.;
- a ropes course training;
- rafting or outdoor trips;
- trips to Freeport, Portland, Fun Town Splash Town, etc.;
- tournaments around group history;
- making and burying a time capsule;
- mentoring relationships between old and new members;
- creating an organizational intramural sports team; or small or large group roundtable discussions on topics important to the team or organization.
 See 20-A M.R.S. § 10004(1) (A).
Last Revision: August, 2013