What can schools and parents do to stop hazing? An expert in the field, Dr. Norman Pollard, who is the director of counseling at Alfred (N.Y.) University, has several suggestions.
?Have an antihazing policy. "It's surprising how often I've talked to students who say no one ever told them hazing was wrong," says Pollard, who was part of the research team for Alfred's pioneering hazing studies. "Schools need to have a policy in place that is explained to students and enforced."
?Develop adult-sponsored initiations. "Kids need some sort of rite of passage, but they don't know how to do it. Parents, teachers, alumni and coaches can help develop team-building activities like rope courses or adventure camping. It can be challenging, but it needs to have adults involved."
?Establish reporting mechanisms. "Students need a way to safely report incidents of hazing to the school guidance counselor," Pollard says. Some school districts, he adds, subscribe to anonymous websites such as Reportit.com.
?Realize you can make an impact. "I get calls all the time from parents who feel they're just pushed aside when they try to file a charge or ask for an investigation," says Pollard. "They need to have a mechanism through the school board or PTA."
?Stay involved. "When kids are in Little League or Pop Warner between the ages of five and 12, the parents are involved, coaching, selling concessions, carpooling," says Pollard. "Then the kid turns 13, and a lot of times the parents leave things to the coaches and the school. Parents need to be more involved between ages 13 and 17."
Though administrators in the Bellmore-Merrick school district had some antihazing measures in place at Mepham High, they are now undertaking several initiatives. They have brought in Athletes Helping Athletes, a program on civility run by former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson; are instituting a freshman seminar and an antihazing unit in phys-ed classes; and have started a graduate-level class in conjunction with Adelphi University, open to all teachers, on responsible behavior for coaches and athletes.
Likewise, Bellmore-Merrick school officials hope the Mepham case can serve as a cautionary tale to their counterparts across the country. As Saul Lerner, the district's athletic director, points out, "If someone reads this article, or if a kid now comes forward who was hazed, then something good comes out of something that was incredibly horrific."