I still remember sprinting home following the last day of class in elementary school to avoid the horrors of having lipstick smeared over my face, which had somehow become a tradition.
Later, when I was in Boy Scouts, the initiation to join a group called Order of the Arrow was to spend the day being bossed around by older boys already in the group as we cleaned and made minor repairs around the camp. Others doing the menial chores with me talked about how eager they were to come back next year when they would be the masters.
Fortunately, I never joined a fraternity. My experiences with hazing have been mild enough that I can understand its value in helping to bring a group closer together. When people go through the same challenges and experiences in order to become a member, it can create a sense of bonding and team unity.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham now wants to outlaw all of that. In response to the alleged criminal misconduct on the NMSI men’s basketball team, the governor has announced that she will propose anti-hazing legislation for next year’s session.
“I, along with my administration, have zero tolerance for abuse of any kind,” Lujan Grisham declared in her press release. Really? Even mild teasing?
I’m not defending what allegedly happened in the NMSU lockerroom, but we already have laws against sexual assault. If the charges made by the two players alleging assault are proven true in court, those responsible will be held to account.
The governor announced plans for a bill without giving any details as to what it would actually do. So, I’ll reserve judgment until it is drafted, but I worry about government overreach.
Unfortunately, what happened in the NMSU lockerroom is not unique. There is a long list of incidents where hazing has led to even more dire consequences, including death. Any rituals involving the forced consumption of alcohol, physical or sexual abuse should be made illegal if there aren’t laws already covering those actions.
The problem with hazing is that it’s done by people, and some people are jerks. Hazing, by its very nature, imposes a power imbalance that can cause real damage when wielded by those with a sadistic nature.
The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention reports that there have been more than 200 deaths caused by hazing at colleges and universities, with 40 in the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017. Most were caused by alcohol poisoning.
The most serious hazing incidents at NMSU did not happen in the locker room. In 2020, a student pledging to become a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was shot in the leg by another fraternity member during bazaar initiation rituals involving guns. But, that one didn’t make the national news.
There needs to be guardrails and oversight. And if that is what the governor is proposing, fine.
But, for better or worse, these kinds of rituals have been around since long before New Mexico was a state or the United States was a country. Nothing done in the 2024 session of the New Mexico Legislature will change that.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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