It'd be hard not to view the recent suspension of several members of the Needham High School girls’ soccer team through the lens of recent efforts to curb bullying in our nation's schools. Some might argue that anti-hazing policies like Needham's are the logical extension of anti-bullying campaigns: Hazing can certainly be a form of bullying, so it makes sense that some people would want to ban it in all forms. If done carelessly, it can hurt people's feelings and cause a heavy amount of anxiety.
I have to admit, though, that while I am 100 percent behind efforts to stop bullying in our schools — especially when it comes to bullying based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity — I'm uncomfortable with rules that ban all forms of hazing. And I think the Needham case can help me explain why.
There is a big difference between malicious bullying and what the members of the Needham soccer team did. According to the reports, the students blindfolded their teammates, led them around on leashes, and then hit them with pies. Now, that's not nice, but it's not that traumatic, either. And it certainly doesn't compare to the types of things that have caused some students to commit suicide recently.
I realize I am walking down a slippery slope here, but I think there is a big difference between teasing someone for something he is — nerdy, a little on the heavier side, gay — and hitting someone with a pie because she belongs to a particular sports team. The intentions behind those actions are much different, and they really do change the meaning and effect.
The Needham girls probably deserved to be punished, but suspensions seem a little harsh. Schools need to make sure hazing doesn't get out of hand, but all hazing isn't the same. And punishments should reflect that.
I've made my case. Feel free to agree or disagree in the poll above or comments below.
UPDATE: I responded to one commenter in a follow-up post.