Tag Archives: hazing

Oscar The Grouch

Context: Informant is a USC student, but not part of a USC fraternity, and has not tried to pledge to one in the past. Their information on the subject is entirely based on what they have heard from their USC peers, who are not part of fraternities either. Oscar the Grouch is a prominent Sesame Street character, known for his irritable personality and the fact that he enjoys living in his trashcan home.

Informant: “I heard from my friend that in USC fraternities, for hazing, they choose the ugliest guy trying to pledge, and they call him ‘Oscar the Grouch’. They put him in a trashcan and then they have the other pledges get really drunk and then throw up on him.”

Background Info: Although the hazing rituals are a well known aspect of joining fraternities/sororities here at USC, the exact details are supposed to be kept secret. Therefore, in this scenario, the folklore is not necessarily the hazing ritual, but the conjecture and rumors which the community makes surrounding the hazing ritual. Whether or not ‘Oscar the Grouch’ is a real hazing ritual or not, the students of USC have enjoyed telling these outlandish stories to one another. When informant was describing the hazing, surrounding people stated they had heard of the ritual as well. Although no one could confirm, it was obvious it was a well-known story among the USC students.

Thoughts: It is definitely interesting to see how folklore can be mysterious, and therefore conjecture on the subject will produce more folklore. The hazing ritual is meant to define who is in the fraternity, and who is not. It’s interesting that the people not in the frat will lack that folklore, and will make their own trying to fill the void. This, i think, leads to a lot of over-exaggerations in the story, and therefore the stories become pretty outrageous. Still very entertaining though.

Sorority Hazing Ritual

TG is a 25 year old graduate student and cultural forensic anthropologist. She grew up in Maryland and currently resides in Tennessee. She was an active member at her university. She was in a sorority herself.

Context: This performance was done during the Spring semester at the university between X sorority and the girl trying to rush.

Transcript (discussed over the phone):

TG: Okay, I have to make this kind of vague because I can get into trouble if I give away the name of the university. There was a student trying to rush X sorority and there was an intense hazing process. Every girl got a difference hazing task when rushing but one girl specifically was not allowed to speak for a week. She had people secretly monitoring her to make sure she does not speak. That is not the worst part though; when she was spoken to, she was only allowed to respond by meowing like a cat. So for example, if someone asked “How are you?” she had to meow back to them. It was crazy.

Collector: Why meowing like a cat?

TG: Honestly, I’m not sure. I think it was more because it was an embarrassing thing to do and if you could do it successfully for the full week then it shows your loyalty to the sorority- maybe even your submissiveness too.

Thoughts/Analysis: There are hazing rituals in almost every fraternity and sorority. I find that the common denominator between them all is that they are supposed to have the potential member display some form of loyalty to the organization. These initiation processes are not kind; they push potential members hard to make sure they are worthy of membership.

For variations of embarrassing hazing rituals, see:

Appel, Stefan. “Sorority Hazing (Kappa Cow).” USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 18, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/tag/hazing/.

British Boarding School 18th Birthday Hazing Tradition


DD: “At Malvern and at most boarding schools, you have all your meals in your house, which means you sit with your year group, but there’s people from [ages] 13 to 18 in that room. Whenever you turn 18, after lunch and the housemaster does all the announcements and leaves and goes to the private side, what the birthday boy would try and do is run out of the lunchroom, but what everyone else does—and it’s mainly the lower and upper sixth, like junior and senior years—they like, hold down the person and carry them out of the lunchroom and into the showers, which are in the basement. And we’re all wearing suits. And then they turn on the showers and you get thrown in the showers and you get completely soaking wet. And, also, as you’re doing this, if you resist at all, they beat the s— out of you.”


The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in the Netherlands and attended a British boarding school, Malvern college, from ages 16 to 18. He experienced this tradition on his 18th birthday and similarly hazed other students on their birthdays. DD describes this ritual as “the highest form of endearment” that someone in this environment can experience. Since homophobia and oppressive gender ideals play such a big role in shaping social dynamics at all-boys boarding schools, he says that boys often use violence to express affection for one another. He says that this ritual acts as a sort of substitute for more common birthday traditions like singing happy birthday to someone or baking them a cake, which students may deride as “gay.”

            Moreover, despite the brutality and humiliation of this tradition, he argues that boys enjoy it because it’s an opportunity for them to be the center of attention and to be celebrated on their birthday.


This tradition exemplifies how transitional events are often ritualized and the tendency for people to behave in ways which would ordinarily be deemed unacceptable during liminal moments. In International Folkloristics, Arnold van Gennep describes rites of passage as “ceremonial patterns which accompany a passage from one situation to another or from one cosmic or social world to another” (Dundes 102). I am arguing that boarding school students hazing their peers on their 18th birthday is a rite of passage which marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, where the event acts as a sort of acknowledgement or confirmation of a student’s status as an adult. 

People feel inclined to engage in abnormal behaviors during instances of liminality because the paradoxical qualities of these moments make people think that the conventions which govern normal time are inapplicable. In general, birthdays are liminal because they cusp the end of one year and the beginning of another. With this ritual, another dimension of liminality applies to one’s 18th birthday, as this day cusps the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Further, one’s status as an adult is complicated by the student still being in secondary school, which is generally synonymous with childhood. One could argue that a possible intention of this rite of passage is to humble the person whose birthday it is by showing that despite having the nominal privileges of adulthood, they are still a part of the school. The inversion of social roles often occurs during liminal moments. Younger students hazing their older peers can be interpreted as flipping power dynamics.

Another feature of liminality in this ritual is it simultaneously being embraced as a cultural tradition and being seen as a form of rule breaking. Students wait for the housemaster to leave before carrying out the tradition, but this is merely a performance of secrecy which is part of the ritual. The practice is a kind of open secret, where school authorities know that it occurs and participate by turning a blind eye and not getting involved. Though such hazing would ordinarily be penalized, it is tolerated on 18th birthdays because the community understands the tradition as a longstanding rite of passage celebrating students’ transitions to adulthood.

Van Gennep, Arnold. “The Rites of Passage.” International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, edited by Alan Dundes, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 1999. 



Informant: I think this is like our second or third day into Hell Week, and we had had some kind of––we were in the courtyard, and they’d given us these giant bowls of chocolate pudding… And it turned into a food fight. So we had, like, just gone nuts, or you know… Spitting and throwing pudding at each other, and just tackling each other in pudding. So what the actives didwas, they put us in the middle of the courtyard in a group and hosed us down to try and get some of the pudding off, right? Well… They finally said, “Alright. The hose isn’t working. You guys go take a shower.” So what they made us do is we all get in the showers. So they had us all strip down, and the pledges all have the same clothes on. We all have camouflage pants, white underwear, and a white T-shirt. And they threw all of our clothes in a big pile… And… They let us take showers for the first time in like three days, and we were feeling pretty good. And then they shut the water off, and they started yelling and they’re like, “All right, you guys have thirty seconds or whatever to get clothes on and get to bed.” And we were just like, “What?” And we had no idea how to figure out whose clothes were whose. So you just grab whatever pair of underwear you found, threw them on. You try to find pants that fit you, put them on, and a T-shirt. And so you went from a nice hot shower into these ice cold––‘cause it’s January in LA and we’ve been outside getting hosed with cold water––so you’re putting on sticky… Chocolate-covered… Clothes, after a nice hot shower. And then you’re crammed into a tiny tiny room where we had to sleep like literally on top of each other, and we’re told to go to bed. So we’re like lying there in these gooey, cold wet clothes… That was just the worst night of Hell Week for me, ‘cause you just itched… But then you also just had the, you know, burrito eating contests where they designed this burrito to make you throw up. So they put everything in it including chewing tobacco. So it was like, you know, raw fish and fricken chopped up squid. And uh, whoever finished it first––and it was giant––got a beer. So… Everyone knew it was either gonna be me or [X] that was gonna win. ‘Cause most guys––there was, you know, guys were throwing up––cause most guys couldn’t keep it down. And [X] and I went at it, and I beat him and he was so bummed. So, that was that… And like they gave us a night in LA and we had to go out and come back with tributes. So they gave us a couple of cars and the goal was to end––this is the middle of the night. We had to go out into Los Angeles and come back with tributes to the Hell Masters. So my team found a street sign that had the name of one of our founders on it. Just coincidence, right? So other teams are coming in with like liquor bottles or whatever, and we walked in with this giant freaking California Department of Transportation road sign. And that stuff was just fun.


Interviewer: Did you enjoy Hell Week at all? 

Informant: I did, personally, ‘cause I like that stuff… When the Jackass Train left the station I was gonna be on it… I mean, I showed up a day late to Hell Week. [X] and I both did. So the Hell Masters threw everything at us. So when everyone else had to go running, you know, [X] and I had to run circles around them while eating a raw onion. But I just came from the mountains so I could have run all day. And we got a lot of respect from the actives by just rollin’ with everything they freaking threw at us. I just thought it was hysterical. 

Interviewer: Did it bring you closer to the other pledges?

Informant: Kind of. It was all about unity, you know?  Like the actives tell you, “You guys are one unit. If your pledge brother can’t make it, you help him out no matter what it is.” And that could be with like running or push-ups or whatever. A lot of the time it was just eating. I mean they’d try to make us overeat, and [X] and I ate freaking everyone’s food for them and there’s guys like throwing up. But, you know it’s… It’s not like you’re a soldier where somebody’s life is on the line and you’re there for them in their time of need. You’re not bonded in that way. There was never an episode where I can help somebody other than, you know, eating their hamburger. And I was just happy to get food. So it was less about, like, being there for your pledge bros, and it was more about proving yourself to the actives.


In their article “Crossing the Line,” Jennifer J. Waldron & Christopher L. Kowalski write, “Initiation rites and rituals are particularly important for men in sex-segregated environments… In the anthropological literature, [Don] Sabo suggested that male rites serve as a means for older players to persuade younger members, often through pain infliction, to conform to the social roles and appropriate behaviors of the team” (291-92). This text is specifically geared towards hazing on athletic teams, but can be applied to hazing within a fraternity, which is also a sex-segregated space. Hazing can be used to establish a hierarchy of power and authority, and to ensure the new members understand where they are ranked on the totem pole.

This informant, however, established a power of his own through the hazing process. Rather than be left feeling submissive and weakened, he felt it was a chance to prove himself to the actives and gain their respect. Thus, while hazing may be a way to put pledges “in their place,” so to speak, it is also a chance for a pledge to stand out. For those who want to prove themselves to the actives, and who fit a more stereotypically, hyper-masculine mold––who eat copious amounts of food, are physically fit, enjoy drinking a lot of alcohol, etc.––it can be a positive experience, and an “appropriate” rite of passage as they enter a hyper-masculine environment.


Source cited above:

Waldron, Jennifer J., and Christopher L. Kowalski. “Crossing the Line: Rites of Passage, Team Aspects, and Ambiguity of Hazing.” Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 80, no. 2, Taylor & Francis Group, 2009, pp. 291–302, doi:10.1080/02701367.2009.10599564.

Playoff Haircuts

In high school sports, playoffs are consistently a big deal and represent a payoff for hard work and a good record during the sports season. This form folklore is both a folk practice and afterward, a folk object. The practice is giving certain haircuts during the time after the regular season but before playoffs begin. These are not normal haircuts but wild ones with different patterns and styles. Some of them include mohawks, bald heads, bowl cuts, words shaved into heads, monk haircuts, old man haircuts, and a plethora of others. They are not set haircuts but rather up to the imagination. This practice is similarly performed in other high schools across the United States, sometimes with other variations.

This folk practice is traditionally done by the upperclassmen within a team. The lowerclassmen get worse haircuts while the upperclassmen get better ones. In this way, it is a form of hazing. The informant said that the haircuts are typically shaved off or bettered once the playoff streak end because they are only to remain during the postseason. They learned it from the upperclassmen when they were younger and then performed this practice as an upperclassman. This is only typically done on varsity sports. The sports observed to do this include baseball, football, lacrosse, and some others. They remember it wholly fondly, even as a lower classman. It is not meant to be malicious but more a harmless rite of passage because it makes the kids feel like more of a coherent group. Another instance of this at different schools include bleaching the team’s hair during playoff time.

It seems to me that this sometimes is about a dynamic of power. Younger kids may be intimidated into doing this, but other kids may enjoy it because they are a part of a larger group and help self-identify with that. It is a physical way of making teammates more similar and improves as the kids get older, causing interest to do it for the first time.