*Carissa wanted to audition for De La Salle University’s (DLSU) Animo Squad the moment she saw the recruitment booth along SJ Walk. She signed up for a spot in the open auditions and out of excitement, she arrived early at the designated venue of the tryouts. Carissa made it through the first cut; she also withstood the growing difficulty of routines in the succeeding sessions.
The pep squad aspirant was determined to make the last cut, but when the cheer captain announced that all aspirants had to go through a week-long initiation exercise, Carissa hesitated to continue. Carissa did not want to participate in any cross-dressing or incriminating activities, but she knew that declining participation will cost her her dream of becoming a member of DLSU’s pep squad.
Sensitive topic no. 1
Hazing has become a buzzword in the Lasallian community during the past months. Recent hazing-related events including the death of Guillo Cesar Servando, a sophomore student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, and the ongoing investigation of physical and psychological abuse in the Cadet Officers Candidate Course of DLSU’s Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit have sparked discussions among individuals and groups on the thin line that separates tradition from tragedy.
Much of the discussion focused on the definition of hazing. Many argue that hazing is a broad term that allows for different interpretations. The common perception of hazing is that it’s an activity that involves paddles and blindfolds, while majority relate hazing with fraternities and sororities. In reality, there are more than 20 forms of hazing utilized by groups and organizations other than fraternities and sororities.
A form of oppression?
Both the DLSU Student Handbook and Republic Act No. 8049, or the Anti-Hazing Law, define hazing as “an initiation rite or practice as a pre-requisite for admission into a fraternity, sorority, or organization by placing the recruit, neophyte, or applicant in some embarrassing or humiliating situations, such as forcing him to do menial, silly, foolish, and similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury.”
This definition provides for a broader concept of hazing and for the identification of organizations that could be guilty of conducting initiation rites. Although DLSU doesn’t recognize fraternities and sororities, other accredited student groups and teams have their own initiation rites.
The week-long pep squad initiation *Carissa was supposed to go through is known as “Hell Week” among Animo Squad members and aspirants. Applicants come to school in costumes, depending on the theme, wear placards with their names on it, and perform routines at the Amphitheater during breaks, among others.
Betina Libre (IV, ADV ) shares that she feels bad for the aspirants who aren’t enjoying the initiation activity. “It’s evident that there are a handful who are fine with it [participating in the initiation], but I can also see that the ones who are uncomfortable with it are having a difficulty dealing with the embarrassment of performing [in such state],” she adds.
Cheska Chua (I, OCM), a recent member of the Animo Squad, regards her participation during Hell Week as a fulfilling experience instead of an activity that humiliated her and the rest of the aspirants.
“Dressing-up only drew our batch closer and the activities our seniors asked us to do contributed to the batch teambuilding as well. The activities were not only fun, but the exercises also helped us to be more confident when interacting with others and when performing cheers in front of crowds,” she shares. Chua adds that aside from tradition, all of the pep squad’s initiation exercises were geared towards a purpose.
All DLSU sports teams participate in the annual pep rally organized by the Office of Sports Development (OSD) and the University Student Government Office of the Vice President for Internal Affairs. Rookies are required to dress up according to the chosen theme and to perform a number in front of an audience. This event has also been eyed by some to be a form of hazing.
OSD Director Emmanuel Calanong, however, doesn’t consider the performances in the annual pep rally as a form of hazing. “Using the definition of the [Student Handbook] and [the RA], technically, what they’re [athletes] doing is not a prerequisite to join the team they’re aspiring to become a member of. What will qualify them to be part of a team, whether they will be taken in or not, is not based whether they will perform in the pep rally,” he explains.
The director elaborates that the performance of the aspirant in the tryouts will remain the deciding factor whether he or she will be accepted into a sports team. DLSU Lady Shuttler Danica San Ignacio also confirms this. All DLSU Shuttler aspirants are required to participate in tryouts and only a few are recruited into the team.
San Ignacio also shares that the Shuttlers ask rookies to cut their hair in a certain uniform length. “The rookies could show us their dedication to the team by cutting their hair. One, it’s more practical for us badminton players to sport a short haircut due to the nature of the game, and second, it’s a symbol that rookies are willing to give up something personal for the team,” she explains in Filipino.
Sports psychologist and DLSU professor Rey Canlas explains that the initiation rites of sports teams are based on team norms and tradition. These traditions unite the team and encourage commitment, teamwork, and cohesion among team members. He also distinguishes that the group dynamics in sports teams is different from other organizations. “Violence – where an athlete’s body could be compromised – is unacceptable in sports teams,” Canlas points out.
The Lady Shuttler San Ignacio informs that rookies aren’t forced to cut their hair, especially if it will go against their religion or principles. “Again, we don’t force anything upon our rookies. For as long as they qualify in the tryouts, they will become part of the team. The haircut requirement and pep rally participation are just symbolic acts of teamwork,” she highlights.
Dr. Lourdes Balatbat, an assistant professor from the Psychology Department, points out that initiation exercises are better exposed in public because it allows for self-regulation, moderation, and control.
Libre also observes that the initiation traditions of sports groups and of the pep squads are different from how fraternities and sororities induct a neophyte. “I think it [sports team and pep rally initiation rites] is more acceptable given that the aspirants gave their consent to participate in such exercises. I mean it’s also a test of character since the aspirants could develop their confidence and sense of teamwork through the exercises,” she quips.
Question of consent
Although still a gray area in the Philippine-setting, a university in the USA defines hazing as any action, regardless of whether consent was given, that intentionally or unintentionally harms the mental, physical, or academic disposition of a student.
In an exclusive interview with The LaSallian, Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian points out that the issue on consent has always been the defense fraternities, sororities, and other organizations use whenever they get scrutinized for their initiation rites. “With consent comes peer pressure, so the lines are very blurred. When does peer pressure come in and when does consent come in?” Gatchalian asks to highlight the moral dilemma a hazing victim could undergo while in the process of deciding whether to participate in initiation rites.
As one of the proponents of the “Servando Act”, a House bill that seeks to totally ban all forms of hazing, Gatchalian mentions that in the proposed law, the consent of the victim will become immaterial to the facts of the case. “Whether consent was given or if it wasn’t, if a tradition or act is a form of hazing, it will be banned,” he clarifies.
The Valenzuela City Congressman also shares that in the proposed Servando Act, the original definition of hazing will still be retained – any act that will place an applicant, neophyte, or recruit in an embarrassing or humiliating situations will be considered as hazing – but he admits that determining if an initiation exercise is humiliating or not is quite relative. The burden of proof will remain with the victim whether he or she finds the initiation exercise infringing to his or her rights and principles.
“The proposed law will limit the acts that could pass as forms of hazing, but below that, it will depend on the victim whether he or she felt violated by that initiation rite. The law will definitely set a standard where it’s very clear and obvious that human rights were violated,” Gatchalian furthers.
“For example, if an organization president asks one applicant to kiss a person of the same sex, or if rookies are asked to wear costumes and perform in front of an audience, for most of us, those acts might be innocent or funny, and it might not be captured by the law as an explicit act of hazing, but if the victim thinks that he or she was violated then he could file a case and let the law test the incident,” says the congressman as he tries to illustrate his point.
The end will justify the means
Students choose to participate in initiation exercises since “There can be a great need to belong even when there are high costs of belonging,” according to Psychology Department Assistant Professor AJ Galang. Nevertheless, he reiterates that there could be other factors that could affect an aspirant’s decision to join an organization and to undergo hazing activities.
Balatbat explains that people, especially younger ones, only see the benefits of joining an organization or team. They aren’t particular of the process that they have to undergo, even if they will have to go through hazing, just to be accepted in an organization. She cites the social needs in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as motivation of this behavior.
“There are two ways a person could be motivated to join an organization. One is for social approval. When one gets accepted into a group, the new member will think that something good will happen to him or her now that he or she is part of a bigger group. One could expand his or her network by joining groups. In addition, joining groups or organizations is an opportunity for aspirants to prove themselves to others, to society,” Dr. Balatbat adds.
Students who experience family and relationship problems use inclusion to groups and organizations as a psychological compensation mechanism, while those who have suffered neglect and have experienced poverty would join groups in order to become more influential, expounds the Dr. Balatbat.
Given the different reasons that motivate students to join organizations, Gatchalian highlights the need for schools to be more proactive in terms of ensuring that students don’t have to go through any hazing activities just to be accepted into a group or team. In the proposed Servando Act, schools will be required to be more accountable in eliminating hazing, if not lessen the accounts of it.
“Schools cannot turn a blind eye on what’s happening within and outside their campuses anymore,” Gatchalian thinks. Canlas also focuses on how the track records of fraternities, sororities, and military groups have distorted the original definition of hazing. He asks that people become more conscious of not only the correct concept of hazing, but also the issue itself.
The existing Anti-Hazing Law lacks the teeth to punish or go after organizations that consider hazing as a norm or tradition, but this shouldn’t stop victims from telling their stories. It’s high time that incidents of hazing be discussed in the open to raise much needed awareness on the issue. Parents, schools, the government, media, and other support systems are expected to take a more proactive role in fighting the evil in hazing.
*Names were changed to protect the identity of the subject