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Former Salt Lake mayor calls for end to ‘traumatic’ high school hazing

East High principal says longtime practice of shaving freshmen ‘must end now’

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dnstock, East High School

East High School in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called on East High School administrators to take steps to stop the “traumatic experience” of hazing after a student being chased by older students banged on the front door of her house pleading for help.

“He said he was being chased by seniors at East High School, where he will start school next month. They had singled him out of a large group of kids his age, to force him into a car and and take him to shave his head. And who knows what else they would do,” Biskupski wrote on a Facebook post.

Biskupski said hazing of incoming freshmen boys “is an epic failure on the part of East High School to not shut down this bullying tactic. I am calling upon Principal Greg Maughan and Vice Principal Kalisi Uluave to shut this traumatic experience down NOW.”

Maughan issued his own post, calling on students and parents to reach out to the school to let them know if they or their child has been victimized by hazing.

“If you are a parent of a senior, please exercise your responsibility as a parent and community member to stop this. Whether you personally agree or not, we are saying this has a negative impact on other students, the school, and the larger community, and it must end now, PERIOD,” he wrote.

Hazing of incoming boys has been a longtime practice at the school and offenders have been dealt various sanctions and penalties over the years, with some incidents referred to law enforcement that resulted in criminal charges.

Under Salt Lake City School District policy, school-level discipline can result in suspension or expulsion. Students’ participation in extracurricular activities can be halted or they can be placed on probation.

Melissa Ford — the president of the Salt Lake City Board of Education and representative of Precinct 6 representative, which includes East High School — said the school regularly communicates with the community about its expectations but many people are reticent to report hazing, which makes it difficult for the school to intervene.

“I do want to push back on any assumption anybody might be making that the high school administration hasn’t taken this seriously and that they aren’t actively trying to stop it because I think if you look back over the last five years ... every year, they actively send letters, emails home, they pull kids in who have been shaved,” she said.

They call in the students to check on their well-being but also to attempt to stop the conduct by asking them to help identify perpetrators. Yet students rarely identify their abusers, she said.

Ford said school community councils at East High School and Clayton Middle School, which feeds into the high school, have had the issue on their agendas for years.

Four years ago, school community council leaders at both schools, PTA leaders at the schools and Ford joined in a letter mailed to community members calling for their help in stopping the practice.

But it persists, perhaps because as the young teen who knocked on Biskupski’s door explained, it is considered “a rite of passage” or tradition in a school community where some students’ families have attended the same high school for generations.

“I don’t think it’s what we should continue to do. It’s just not reflective of who we are as a community,” Ford said.

Maughan’s Facebook post said he is saddened each time he sees a student with a shaved head, “knowing they may have been brutalized and emotionally injured. All in the name of ‘belonging.’”

When administrators investigate, some parents have moved their child to a different school rather than identify perpetrators.

“When we believe we know who was involved, it has proven almost impossible to address with the perpetrators, because we lack enough information and/or many of their parents see this as a ‘rite of passage’ or ‘tradition’ which ‘does not involve the school.’ Rather than people coming to the table to help teach kids that it is wrong, adults push it deeper underground to avoid or prevent consequences. Traditions should NEVER lead to injury (physical, emotional or otherwise) or bullying of any sort and should not ever determine if someone ‘belongs’ or is ‘cool,’” Maughan wrote.

Ford said it will take the school and the community working together to bring a halt to the practice.

“At the end of the day, the community needs to decide it isn’t something that they’re going to tolerate anymore,” she said.

The East High School community is hardly alone in incidents of hazing. In recent years, hazing incidents at Utah high schools have made national news for cases involving cheerleaders, wrestlers and football players.

In some cases, students were suspended from school or could no longer participate in extracurricular activities. In a few cases, students faced criminal charges or the incidents resulted in lawsuits.

Nearly 27 year ago, a Sky View High School sophomore backup quarterback was bound with tape naked to a towel rack in the school locker room by fellow football players. They brought his homecoming date into the locker room to show her what they had done.

After school officials failed to take appropriate action, and after he was suspended from the team for, as the coach described it, his own safety, Brian Seamons filed a lawsuit. Seven years later, a jury awarded him $250,000.

Some national studies say nearly half of collegiate athletes experienced hazing while in high school.

According to hazingprevention.org, one study showed 71% of those who are hazed suffer from negative consequences.

These consequences may include:

  • Physical, emotional, and/or mental instability
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Loss of sense of control and empowerment
  • Decline in grades and coursework
  • Relationships suffer with friends, significant others, and family
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • Loss of respect for and interest in being part of the organization
  • Erosion of trust within the group members
  • Illness or hospitalization with additional effects on family and friends