Photo by Jim Inverso
by Amanda Acutt, school counselor and Paul Weiss, athletics director
Last spring Amanda and I presented a concept during assembly that we described as “the opposite of hazing.” Our intent was to challenge the community to engage in purposeful behaviors that we called “Friending.” Essentially, we asked the community to embrace the concept of engaging in pro-social, empathetic, and sometimes uncomfortable, leadership behavior. We were trying to communicate the behaviors and feelings that underpin being in a safe, supportive, and mindful community of Friends.
Most people are generally familiar with the definition of hazing. Traditionally the term is applied to ritual abuse used as an initiation rite in fraternities, sororities, military settings, sports, or clubs. The actual definition of hazing has recently expanded to include “any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment, alienation, or ridicule, and risks emotional and/or physical harm to an individual, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”*
Many institutions provide community education and resources focused on identifying, reporting, and preventing hazing, and we believe this is an important part of culture creation. However, our intent is to address culture creation in a different way. We would like to start a dialog about an intentional approach to creating a safe, mutually supportive, and empathetic school culture or as we like to call it, the opposite of hazing.
This proactive approach to culture creation is consistent with many of the fundamental elements of a Friends community. The George School Mission (found HERE) says the following: “Students learn about the tension between the individual and community, that fairness and justice are inherently tied to each other. They learn to express themselves without trampling others…” and “…in what seems a fitting fulfillment of our mission, George School students joyously go out in the world comfortable in their self-awareness and confident that they can make the world a better, kinder place.”
Our mission is not simply to educate academically, it is to perpetuate the values inherent in a Friends community, and for George School graduates to carry these values with them. When we ask if there is hazing in our community, we are asking the wrong question. Instead, we should ask interconnected questions like:
- What does it mean to intervene, to be a hero, to champion someone else, to be empathetic?
- How aware are you of how others feel, of whether someone feels excluded, unheard, unseen, or uncomfortable?
- What can you do, individually and collectively, to take responsibility for each other?
One of the things that is lost when we talk explicitly about hazing is the proactive ways in which we can do more for each other and our community. The higher-level expectation is to seek out opportunities to connect with each other, particularly individuals and groups in the community who are most likely to feel different, disconnected, alienated, misunderstood, or invisible.
There are many examples of George School students exhibiting behaviors that embody the opposite of hazing. Here are just a few.
- The student who sees a new student in the dining hall looking around nervously and calls out “come sit with us!”
- The student who stops another student in class who is disrespecting a first year teacher.
- The student who sees another student is upset and walks them over to the Student Health and Wellness Center, stays with them, and offers to let that student join her group of friends so they feel less alone and more connected.
- A student who sets up a meeting with the school counselor to ask for tips on how to help a friend through a difficult time.
These examples are real. These students did not know they were being observed, and had no motive other than their belief that their behavior was the right thing to do.
Perpetuating a culture of treating each other as Friends is not limited to students interacting with each other. This is one of the reasons we call everyone by his or her first name; we try to foster an environment in which every individual has intrinsic value, and making sure we see, hear, recognize, and care for each other is the shared thread in the fabric of our community.
The call to action is simple: strive to be intentional, externally aware, and empathetic. Thinking about what behaviors not to do is a start, but leadership and positive culture creation is a deliberate process.
When the intent to do the “opposite of hazing” is shared by many, the effect is powerful.
*paraphrased from www.hazingprevention.org