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The night before classes start at Point Loma Nazarene University, upperclassmen reportedly march male freshmen down to the beach and order them to go "NOSing"— naked ocean swimming. This August, after receiving complaints from a student's parent, the administration fired the residence hall director and issued a public apology during chapel.

"The incident was clearly hazing in our estimation, according to our written and published policy and according to the law," says Caye Smith, vice president of student development. "If something was different this year than perhaps in previous years, it was the fact that we gained knowledge."

Such initiation activities, or rituals meant to induct new members into a group, exist on residential colleges across the country. Some activities are less troublesome than others: student development staff at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois say the worst ritual at their school is one in which incoming resident assistants (RAs) are woken at 1 A.M. and treated to a meal at Denny's. Between NOSing and Denny's, however, lies a vast gray landscape where Christian colleges have attempted to draw the boundaries of what fosters community and what ultimately undermines that community.

Hazing—a severe form of initiation that includes coercion and abuse—is outlawed in 44 states and banned at nearly all American colleges. Most Christian colleges explicitly prohibit hazing in their student handbooks. But beyond the extremes, Christian colleges vary widely in handling upperclassmen-led initiations, which can include chanting, marching, blindfolding, calisthenics, taking off clothing, or performing for older students. Some Christian colleges have found ways to channel student energy into ...

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In the Magazine

November 2008

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