Tracy Maxwell

[This article is based on content contributed by the author for publication in the upcoming book – Fall 2018 – by Hank Nuwer titled Destroying Young Lives: Hazing in Schools and the Military.]

“The world will be saved by the western woman.” When the Dalai Lama, who called himself a feminist, made this statement at the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009, he may not have known what a sensation it would make. But a great deal of research of late has also proven the truth of his statement and reinforced what many campus professionals have believed for years. Namely, that women and feminine leadership styles are capable of fostering tremendous progress on some of our most intractable problems. As a speaker, prevention advocate, non-profit founder and frequent media expert over the past decade on the topic of hazing, I couldn’t agree more.

In my 25 years working in and around higher education, I have often repeated to students what I was taught – that sorority women at the local level could change the face of a fraternity/sorority community by standing up for their values, refusing to participate in events or activities that were mean-spirited, dangerous or demeaning to women, and by exercising their leadership. Time and again, this has been proven by undergraduate women on campuses across North America. When women exercise their unique leadership approach utilizing long-term and global perspectives, nurturing, empathy, conversational turn-taking, credit distribution, inquiry and networked thinking, according to Janet Crawford who created a workshop for companies called The Surprising Neuroscience of Gender Inequity (Hwang, 2014), lasting change is possible, even probable.

An MIT study proved that “women are capable of initiating innovative processes in situations of difficulty and stress.” Further, at the individual level “women are more flexible and better equipped to manage change, are better multi-taskers, are solidarity and community minded, more networked than hierarchical, and an important source of creative and imaginative ways of adapting to changing circumstances . . . ways that don’t always follow rules accepted at the social level (Leonardo, 1994).”

The Anti-Hazing Movement

Formal opposition to hazing has been around for approximately 100 years – when the first statements and policies were put into place by various organizations – however, the practice spread and dozens of people have been killed (almost all men) by hazing despite rules, regulations and more recent legislation. Early leaders in the anti-hazing movement were all men, and research on the problem has focused largely on males as the main perpetrators. Initial approaches involved documenting (through books and video) the consequences of hazing (frequently focusing on the more egregious behaviors), and utilizing masculine-style scare tactics, essentially highlighting legal ramifications and taking a risk management approach.

Many in the more recent movement toward prevention (rather than focusing solely on passing laws, instituting policies and enforcement, which are response-oriented and represent the more masculine style of the past) are women, including researchers, speakers, and curriculum creators. There are also some prominent men at the forefront of the modern movement who have employed a mostly transformational approach including promoting strongly collaborative prevention practices, focus on moral development, emphasis on human dignity, and organizational culture change as effective strategies.

What Women Can Do

Primarily, women can do what they are naturally inclined to do anyway: allow their values to be their guide without conforming to social pressure to look the other way or go along with outdated and harmful traditions. Female students need encouragement and inspiration to do what is already instinctual for them. They require little more than an initial suggestion and ongoing support in moving from bystanders to active change agents in a campus setting.

What gets in the way of success on this issue is often denial of the problem. Campuses and organizations will frequently overlook hazing because of its extreme secrecy, or lack a formal complaint because they aren’t sure what to do about it outside of disciplinary procedure when it is often too late, and people have already been harmed. Prevention is a lengthy process with a number of steps involved, and without the institutional will to tackle it (which often comes only after a very messy, very public problem being splashed across the media), professionals often feel stuck.

Stacy and Jackie were both called to address hazing in their communities. In Jackie’s case, she didn’t hold a formal leadership position at the time that she began important conversations about hazing in her community. Stacy, on the other hand, did have a prominent role when she took steps toward changing a culture. Though the settings and their prominence in their respective communities were vastly different, the two women took a similar approach, invoking values and creativity to challenge the status quo.

Jackie was an undergraduate sorority woman who refused to participate in hazing of the new members of the fraternity system on her campus. Her initial stance was prompted by her advisor, who encouraged her to take a stand as a senior member of the fraternity/sorority community. She didn’t stop with not participating herself but encouraged other sorority women not to as well. Some initial push-back from the community prompted her to begin blogging about her viewpoint, and she invited questions and discussion from other community members to open up a dialogue that truly made an impact.

Stacy, an alumna sorority member, utilized her education and training as a Greek to make some changes to traditions at a summer camp that she directed. She was supported by her camp administrator to make hazing a black and white issue with no remaining gray areas. She began by asking current staff members to make a list of camp traditions. Then she requested they identify how each tradition supported one of the four overarching program goals. Anything that didn’t foster one of those goals was eliminated from camp. Initially, there was pushback from staff about beloved traditions that were being let go, but sticking to the program values was the key to eventual success. An unexpected positive impact of this process was the impact on new staff members. They appreciated the opportunity to create new traditions and felt as though they were adding value to the camp.

The key to success in allowing the feminine leadership style to prosper is providing challenge and support to female leaders to do what they are naturally suited for already.


Hwang, W. Victor, Are Feminine Leadership Traits The Future Of Business? Forbes, August 30, 2014.

Leonardo, Elenora Barbieri Masini, The Creative Role of Women in a Changing World, MIT Press, vol 27, No. 1, 1994, pp. 51-56.

Tracy’s programs share stories as examples and provide tools for creating conversations that lead to positive change. She is introducing a new program just for women this fall to encourage, inspire and empower them to engage their unique skills and talents for leading on the issue of hazing.