As an American, I grew up hearing horror stories of hazing at university. Young people’s lives ruined by those they were supposed to trust. Fraternities and sororities shut down and sports teams under investigation. Even starting in high school, at the beginning of each year, club and sports team leaders were legally required to read a statement detailing the dangers and consequences of hazing.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition of hazing, it is most popular at – though not reserved to – Greek life at universities in the United States. Generally involving immense amounts of alcohol, humiliating and dangerous tasks, and the testing of pain tolerance, it has been reported that 3 out of 5 university students experience hazing. While most schools have anti-hazing rules in place, instances of hazing are hardly ever reported, so there is no real way to regulate the issue.
While choosing a university where I would spend my next four years, I immediately x’d out any schools where Greek life had a large presence on campus. I had no interest in the rushing process, the culture, and most crucially, the hazing. Somehow, I ended up at the University of St Andrews, where one of the largest university-sanctioned activities seemed to be just thinly veiled hazing; Raisin Weekend. I dreaded it, the pit in my stomach growing exponentially as days were crossed off the calendar and the weekend approached. However, after surviving my first Raisin, I can confidently say that though there are certainly similarities between hazing in the US and Raisin Weekend, there are far many more differences between the two, making Raisin a genuinely safe and positive experience.
The largest difference that comes to mind is the safety of Raisin, a missing but key component of hazing in the US. There are many factors that contribute to Raisin being an inherently safer event than anything that goes on in the US, mainly due to the University’s involvement. In the lead up to Raisin, there were countless emails, Instagram and Facebook posts on what Raisin is, how to stay safe, and how to get help if anything goes wrong. As the legal drinking age in Scotland is 18, as opposed to 21 in the US, students undoubtedly feel more inclined to reach out to those in charge and ask for help as there is no risk of getting in trouble. Furthermore, as hazing is a prohibited activity at most universities in the US, admitting you were part of it by asking for help opens both you and the responsible organisation to investigation with the potential serious repercussions. There are many stories, particularly from fraternities, of students losing their lives because their peers waited too long to call for help due to their fear of suffering consequences, both personal and on behalf of their organisation. This is in stark contrast with St Andrews, with ambulances on call in case anyone should require them – a result of both the lower drinking age and the university’s awareness and involvement.
The other main difference is the involvement of academic parents in Raisin. In America, the idea of hazing centres around intimidation. Disguised behind the idea of “unity” and “team bonding,” it is far more an excuse for those in power to bully, harass, and abuse younger and more vulnerable students. Raisin, on the other hand, at least for me and others I know, comes with a genuine effort to build a community, have fun, and create lifelong memories. This is thanks to the tradition of academic families. I believe that the very idea of academic families creates a stronger sense of responsibility – between both parents and children and between siblings – than frats or sports teams, which are known to have a generally toxic environment. By creating familial structures, even if it’s just in name, parents want to take care of you and give you a positive Raisin experience. In the US, older students are more focused on “weeding out” the weaker students, otherwise known as those who have a lower tolerance or more boundaries.
There are also many different Raisin experiences, an opportunity to personalise your weekend, which is unthinkable during the hazing process. Picking a family that matches what you want from the weekend is probably the best way to ensure a good time. Setting boundaries and advocating for yourself allows you to feel safe and supported. As someone who went through Raisin sober due to a nasty infection and an antibiotic prescription, I can personally attest to the creativity of tasks and “punishments” parents can think of that don’t involve alcohol. Had I been rushing a sorority or a sports team, this no doubt would have been a much larger obstacle and the likelihood of my having had to consume alcohol is high.
Despite my apprehensions, Raisin weekend will undoubtedly remain as one of my fondest memories of St Andrews. Unlike those who undergo hazing back in the States, I felt safe the entire time. This is a privilege and I think that the structure of Raisin truly does set students up for success. However, I recognise this is a fairly impossible mould to follow in the United States as the legal drinking age falls far after the first year of university. I would highly encourage anyone to participate in Raisin, as much or as little as they would like and would echo the sentiment of many that hazing is an archaic and highly consequential form of abuse which should not to be accepted or promoted.