When Seattle Police officers and Garfield High School Principal Ted Howard arrived at the Arboretum last Friday afternoon, they found more than 100 Garfield students drinking hard alcohol and beer, dressed up in diapers, covered in shoe polish and being paddled by boards or pelted with eggs.
They were there for a hazing event unsanctioned by the school. Hazing, or froshing, is an age-old ritual. Upperclassmen inflict it on entering freshmen or rookies on sports teams, and it can range from mundane acts to more extreme or violent behavior.
In an email to parents, Howard said the school is working hard to stop hazing, and he asked parents to help. Hazing is a crime under Washington state law.
But what do high schoolers think about hazing? RadioActive youth producer Halle Bill, herself a graduate of Garfield in the class of 2013, reports on two very different perspectives on froshing, from people who've been through it.
Cracking Down On Entrenched Tradition
Anna Griffith-Fillipo graduated from Garfield High School in 2012. Her senior year, she was captain of the girls swim team. It was her role to frosh the freshman on the team. "We poured condiments on them, we made them do an Easter egg hunt and inside the Easter eggs were gross things. We sprayed them with hoses and stuff," said Griffith-Fillipo.
Froshing is a long standing tradition at Garfield High School. Many freshmen there are froshed at the beginning of the year at homecoming and at the end of the year during spirit week.
This tradition has been around as long as anyone can remember. The older students throw food at the freshmen. The freshmen have to dress in costumes and embarrass themselves in public. Sometimes they're even paddled or thrown into Lake Washington.
In recent years, the Garfield administration has cracked down on froshing. They send patrols out looking for it and discourage it twice a year at assemblies.
Members of the administration at Garfield were not able to comment on this story. But they do give students a handbook on the first day of school that includes this strongly worded paragraph against froshing.
Harassment and hazing constitute exceptional misconduct and are in fact felony offenses. This includes 'initiation' and 'froshing.' Prohibited activities include dunking in the lake, face painting, baby powder, whipped cream, shaving cream, boxing, other forms of initiation, humiliation, or abuse. Consequences include suspension or expulsion, and/or possible criminal charges.
Last Chance For Popularity
Hazing freshmen isn't just a Garfield tradition. April Glass went through a similar experience when she was growing up in tiny Clerburne, Texas. It's the kind of town that has just one main street for parades. Once a year, freshmen are marched down this main street.
The summer before ninth grade, Glass was one of these freshmen. "There was something called the penny race where they'd put pennies on the ground and make you get on your hands and knees and push the penny from start to finish, basically," she said.
Parents lined the streets to watch Glass be froshed. They watched as she and her friends were herded through a car wash like cattle, getting bruised and battered. This parade happens every year, and it's so accepted that pictures of the event even show up in the high school yearbook.
"Even at the time it felt wrong and rather disturbing that we were having food dumped on us,” Glass recalled. “But also it sadly felt like I'm being accepted because, you know, at 13 I think that's all I really wanted: to be accepted and to not be so awkward."
Although she felt awkward, it was even worse for those who weren't froshed. Only the popular kids were froshed, and if you didn't get hazed as a freshman, that was your last chance at popularity. Those who weren't froshed couldn't frosh the incoming ninth graders. They were then stuck on the outside looking in for the rest of high school.
Because Glass was froshed, she was part of the popular crowd. Even so, she didn't want anything to do with the tradition. Then the summer before sophomore year she got a call. It was from a rising freshman, begging Glass to frosh her. She wanted Glass to do this so someone meaner couldn't.
Glass hesitated. Then another girl called her, pleading for the same thing. Glass reluctantly said yes, but now regrets that decision, "I had thought at the time, well, you know, I'm taking it easy on this person, but now I can't believe I did that to a person," she said.
A Rite Of Passage
Griffith-Fillipo staunchly defends froshing as a "rite of passage" and values it as an "initiation into the Garfield community." She continued, "It's definitely a bonding experience and it does make the Garfield community a lot stronger."
Even after having ketchup thrown on her and being embarrassed in public, she thought being froshed was one of her best experiences at Garfield. This is why Griffith-Fillipo risked expulsion to be involved.
This is also why she is concerned about the Garfield administration cracking down on froshing. Griffith-Fillipo is afraid that froshing is dying out and weakening the sense of community at Garfield. She hopes this won't happen. She sees froshing as a gift – as a way to build stronger relationships between the classes.
"It wasn't like this happened to me so I have to make it happen to someone else because it was so horrible," Griffith-Fillipo said. "It was more like, someone gave me this and I'm going to pass it on as a tradition to continue."
Griffith-Fillipo's froshing days are done, but she hopes that froshing is a tradition that will continue at Garfield and at schools across the nation.
A version of this story originally aired on September 6, 2012.
RadioActive is KUOW's youth radio program, and all the stories here are produced by young people age 16-21. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.