UMaine Study Examines Hazing in NCAA DIII College Athletics

April 26, 2021 / Athletic Leader
College athletes at NCAA Division III schools experience hazing at higher levels than nonathletes and are more likely than their nonathlete peers to hold attitudes and beliefs that support it, according to new research from the University of Maine.

David Kerschner, a Ph.D. student in higher education, and Elizabeth Allan, professor of higher education, surveyed students at five NCAA Division III institutions. Those are schools that do not offer athletic scholarships to student-athletes. However, it’s the largest division of the NCAA — about 40% of the association’s overall membership, including 11 colleges and universities in Maine. Nationwide, more than 190,000 student-athletes compete in Division III programs.

hazingNearly 41% of athletes in the survey experienced hazing, defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” Across the five schools in the study, the percentage of athletes that experienced hazing ranged from 19.6% to 56.5%. For nonathletes, the results showed almost 25% of students experienced hazing.

Athletes were also less likely than nonathletes to agree with statements such as “Hazing is not an effective way to create bonding” and “There is no good reason to haze new members of a group,” designed to gauge participants’ attitudes and perceptions of hazing.

The study is unique because it looked specifically at small-time college athletics. Most previous hazing studies, even those focused on college athletics, have not differentiated between NCAA divisions. Kerschner — whose dissertation is focused on the topic in NCAA Division III athletics — and Allan note that athletes at such schools comprise about a quarter of the overall student body and may account for as much as 55% of the student population at some institutions.

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“Given this, it is likely varsity athletes can have a significant impact on the overall institutional hazing climate at NCAA Division III institutions,” they write.

In terms of prevention, Kerschner and Allan say “strategies to effect change among athletes should ideally be integrated within broader efforts to address hazing as a campuswide phenomenon.” They add that previous research has shown that “one size fits all” approaches tend to be less successful at stopping hazing than “hazing prevention that emphasizes the importance of assessment and provides for a targeted and tailored approach by considering different levels of the campus social ecology.”

The paper was published in the Journal of Amateur Sport and is available online.