Why would a teenager put on a diaper, and then allow someone to strike him with a paddle?
“I wanted to be popular. It was stupid. It didn’t make a difference. It just made me feel worse about myself,” says Joe a former student at Garfield High School in Seattle, who didn’t want me to use his last name or reference his graduation.
He says he went through a hazing incident when he was a freshman.
Seattle police have now identified eight Garfield students suspected of leading a hazing ritual last Friday after school involving incoming freshmen.
When Seattle police officers and Garfield High School Principal Ted Howard arrived at the Arboretum last week they found more than 100 Garfield students drinking alcohol and beer, dressed up in diapers, covered in shoe polish, paddled, and pelted with eggs.
The hazing, or “froshing” as it’s called at Garfield, is a tradition upperclassmen inflict on the “new kids,” according to a former grad.
“Everybody knows it happens. The principal can’t do anything to stop it. Students get away with it because they tell you if you talk, there will be a harsh punishment,” Joe says.
The year he was hazed, he says he was squirted with ketchup and mustard, sprayed with cold water from a garden hose and forced to parade around a parking lot with only his underwear on.
“We had to crawl across the parking lot on our hands and knees,” he says. “I remember going home that night with skinned knees. It was just like I was a little kid falling off a bike. I wanted to tell my mom. I knew she would make it an issue.”
He also says he felt humiliated.
Joe was 14 when he “somewhat willingly” went along with the hazing.
“I thought if I did what they wanted me to do somehow I would be accepted,” he tells me. “I was invisible in middle school. That didn’t feel good, so I thought anything was better than being a nobody for another four years.”
Now 20, if he could send a message to his younger self – and to any other teens reading this – it would be “don’t go along.”
“Don’t go along with anything that someone says you have to do in order to fit in,” he says. “It’s just a trick and in the end, the joke is on you.”
The Garfield froshing incident came up at Wednesday night’s Seattle School Board meeting.
Board President Kay Smith-Blum said of the hazing, “Students, bad job. Parents, rein it in.”
“Stay close to your students and create opportunities to talk. Don’t be afraid to parent and if you hear there will be drinking at a party, talk to your student,” she says.
“We know all of us, as parents, wake up every day to do a good job as a parent and it’s a tough job.”
Garfield parents are organizing a meeting to discuss what they can to do help administrators shut down these kinds of hazing incidents.
Garfield is one of the largest and most diverse high schools in Seattle with about 1,600 students.
Joe is now at the University of Washington studying business. He doesn’t blame the people who hazed him as much as he blames himself for allowing it.
While the recent hazing incident at Garfield brings up “bad memories,” he says he’s moved on and is happy at the UW.
By LINDA THOMAS