A former Bethesda-Chevy Chase freshman recalls hazing

After a homecoming week spirit tradition led to an outbreak of hazing last month at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, I talked to principals, athletic directors and experts about the challenges to stopping sometimes popular traditions that can put young students at risk.

I also talked to Spencer Weinreich, a recent graduate from B-CC, who protested the annual hazing tradition known as Color Day at his school for four years, after he was hazed as a freshman.

Now he is a freshman at Yale, where, incidentally, he says hazing is common: In his first weeks of school, he encountered one group of students being blindfolded and yelled at in a courtyard one night and another group walking the campus wearing reindeer antlers.


Spencer Weinreich

I wanted to share his college essay, which describes his experience of Color Day. Thank you for sharing your story, Spencer.

***

Each year, my high school designates the Friday of homecoming week, “Color Day”: freshmen wear white, sophomores red, juniors green and seniors the school colors -- blue and gold. The freshmen wear white so that upperclassmen and women can “tag” them -- using markers, spray paint and the like -- with their respective class colors. Not surprisingly, this day of so-called integration is more commonly known as “freshman beat down day,” as many tags are accompanied by a bonus cudgel or two. As a freshman, this caused me much anxiety, but I was warned that if I didn’t participate, I’d regret that even more.

I wore white, got drawn on, splashed and sprayed. And, then, in gym class, a junior punched me really hard. It hurt, and it wasn’t necessary. And, despite the mantra of Color Day, it wasn’t “fun”. I felt awkward enough as it was. I don’t think I was alone in feeling this way, but I certainly felt alone.

A year passed. As a sophomore, I was not just entitled, but encouraged to wear green. I showed up in black instead, and tried to convince other sophomores to leave the freshmen alone. I reminded them of how we had felt only a short year ago. Strange how the memory works, though. My efforts proved largely unsuccessful (and I may even be deceiving myself by interjecting the word “largely.”)

In my junior year, having gained some stature, if not from steady academic performance then at least from newfound height (the benefit of a massive summer growth spurt), I sought to persuade the school to abandon the color thing altogether. School should be a safe place for all. Unconsented to touching should not be tolerated, let alone sanctioned. My arguments did not compel. In retrospect, I probably was overly sanctimonious, and possibly shrill. Thus, I spent another “Color Day” in black, making a largely unnoticed statement of protest.

2010, and a senior at last. Yet, one more Color Day with which to contend. One more Color Day, culminating in the annual Pep Rally on the football field. As tradition would have it, the freshmen took their place on the bleachers first, followed by the sophomores and juniors. And, when all were seated, three massive blocks of white, green, and red, the entire senior class rushed euphorically onto the field. All that is, except one.

* * *

The last senior to enter the field neither ran nor yelled. Instead, he walked, dressed from head to toe in white. At first, he was greeted with perplexed silence. But, as he passed in front of the freshman bleachers, he turned, and looked up at the stained-white mass. His fist shot up into the air. He roared up into the crowd, “Freshmen!” Four hundred fists answered his.

“You must be the change you wish to see in this world.” –Mohandas K. Gandhi

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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