Leadership

Essay Contest Harnesses Student Voices to Fight Hazing

By / Oct 29, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Working with HazingPrevention.Org, the National Federation of State High School Associations is sponsoring an essay contest that encourages high school athletes to share stories of how they welcome new teammates without hazing.

When he joined the board of directors at HazingPrevention.Org (HPO) several years ago, Elliot Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning, and student services at the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), found himself  surrounded by colleagues who worked mainly at the collegiate level in athletic departments and the Greek life system, where hazing garners a lot of attention. Hopkins hoped to put a greater focus on high school students.

The winners … will be rewarded because they submitted an essay that speaks to their program’s or school’s ability to combat the culture of hazing.

“We’ve been a strong proponent and have probably been a pain in [HPO’s] side trying to get them to shed some more light on the high school experience,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes students might get to college and all of a sudden get involved in hazing, but what we’re finding out through research is that a lot of young people are coming out of high school well equipped with hazing techniques. That’s something we wanted to start addressing.”

Eventually, Hopkins and NFHS convinced HPO to take a long-standing, annual essay contest and shift the focus to the high school level. Now in its second year, the HPO National Hazing Prevention Week Essay Competition, sponsored by NFHS, aims to prompt tough conversations about hazing in U.S. high schools.

The essays, submitted by students, must adhere to a theme (this year’s is “Hazing Prevention: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility”). Students are asked to share stories about how their schools and teams build a culture that doesn’t involve hazing of new players. Writers of the top three essays win cash prizes.

“We’re looking for the young person to explain a program they’ve created at their school that has minimized or eliminated hazing practices altogether,” Hopkins said. “The winners won’t be rewarded because they are a particular student athlete who has performed at a high level on the field or court; they’ll be rewarded because they submitted an essay that speaks to their program’s or school’s ability to combat the culture of hazing.”

Hopkins said HPO and NFHS are looking for ways to make good use of the entire pool of essays that get submitted this year. He said he’d like the see the selection committee “take all of the submissions and draft them somehow as a sort of whitepaper/best practices [document] that young people can look at as a resource [showing] what other high school programs are doing across the country to prevent hazing.”

The competition, which is accepting submissions through December 31, opened amid news of the suspension of two nationally prominent high school football programs because of hazing incidents. Students at Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey and Central Bucks West High School in suburban Philadelphia saw their schools’ football seasons come to an abrupt end earlier this month. Other allegations of hazing in Vermont, Oklahoma, and Ohio all highlight NFHS’s concern over the “growing hazing epidemic,” Hopkins said.

“I often say we’re just shining a flashlight on a problem that really needs a spotlight. The more of these stories that come out, the more people will start looking toward us to lead high school sports in the right direction,” he said. “NFHS has resources and I go around speaking at schools about hazing prevention, but there’s always more than can be done. That’s why we’re trying to increase the awareness around the issue through efforts like the essay competition.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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