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A Rite of Hazing, Now Out in the Open

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NY Times: The principal of Millburn High, New Jersey's top-ranked high school, says it has gone on for a decade: annual hazing by senior girls who create a "slut list" of incoming freshmen for the first day of school. A dozen or more names are written on a piece of notebook paper, with crass descriptions, and copies are passed around -- hundreds this year, some say.

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"We've had girls -- which is one of the bad things -- obsessed that their names are on it, and girls who were upset that they didn't make the list," said the principal, William Miron. "It's basically vulgar."

And that is not the only type of hazing that goes on, some girls say. Seniors blow whistles in some girls' faces and jostle or push them into lockers, leaving them afraid to come to school the next day.

These tales were out in the open on Friday after half a dozen parents complained to public school officials and a discussion of hazing on a private e-mail group for mothers made its way around this Essex County township.

Dr. Miron said this year's list was generated at an August sleepover party of seniors involved in athletics. Like most, it took aim at pretty and popular incoming ninth graders.

In past years, students found responsible for hazing have been suspended, and up to six senior girls in one year have been held out of school for three to five days, Dr. Miron said. This year, which parents in the e-mail group considered worse than usual, none have been reprimanded.

"We spoke to at least a dozen freshmen and half a dozen seniors, and not one person wanted to really give any names," Dr. Miron said. "There's very little we can really do if a student doesn't come to us and say, 'This is what happened.' " He added that none of the 150 faculty members reported seeing any hazing incidents this year at the 1,400-student school.

Most of the girls interviewed after school on Friday said they had never been hazed. Some had not even heard of the problem, and some of those who had said it was all in good fun. One girl talking with friends on Millburn Avenue several blocks from the high school said freshmen were unlikely to name names.

"Then you'll be the loser," said the girl, 14, who said she had not been hazed and whose father, contacted later, requested that she not be named. "And it gets much worse."

Across the street, several freshman girls in sports uniforms said that senior girls on the soccer team had blown whistles in their faces, and that some of their teammates had been pushed into lockers.

"I was scared, actually," one said. "I didn't want to go to school the next day. It's done every year, but it's still pretty mean." (After the interview, she asked that her name not be used and that the team she was with not be identified.)

Mikayla Nissan, a 16-year-old junior who was walking with friends on Millburn Avenue toward the center of downtown, said hazing added needless anxiety about the first year in a new school.

"It makes them nervous to come to the school," she said of the freshmen. "They shouldn't be nervous. High school is all about teachers helping you figure out what you want to do with your future. It should be a more comforting environment. You shouldn't have to feel new and uncomfortable."

There have been no reports of injuries requiring medical attention, but experts say bullying can inflict long-lasting and severe damage.

Lisa Ryan, whose daughter is a former member of the soccer team, said she had heard reports of egregious hazing in the past.

"I was horrified," Ms. Ryan said in a downtown parking lot. "They did get reprimanded."

One commenter on the Local, the New York Times blog covering Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange, N.J., said of school administrators: "They have an obligation to protect these new and more vulnerable students. The administration can't continue to lay the responsibility for their inaction at the feet of a bunch of terrorized kids." (The commenter, contacted by e-mail, asked to remain anonymous, saying, "My kid would never, ever feel safe in the school again.")

Asked if students caught with the list could be suspended, Dr. Miron said: "A senior with a slut list we would probably suspend. But it sounds so easy talking about it. When a kid says, 'I just found it on the floor and picked it up,' it becomes a little bit messier."

The school's superintendent, Richard Brodow, sent an e-mail message to parents on Friday saying hazing was against school policy "and just plain wrong."

"We are encouraging any student who either has been a victim of or a witness to such behavior to please come forward," Dr. Brodow wrote. "Those who are found to have engaged in this type of behavior will be disciplined. Parents, along with school personnel, must make it perfectly clear that hazing is wrong and we as a school community are better than that."

The school, which had a note on its bulletin board congratulating its 12 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, was ranked first in the state in a recent survey by New Jersey Monthly magazine. But it has found itself in the news for less savory reasons a few times this year.

In January, a fight in the school parking lot involving a minister and his sons and a baseball bat resulted in numerous criminal charges but no convictions. In March, school officials called in drug-sniffing dogs for a search that produced no illegal substances.

As she was pulling away from the campus on Friday in a late-model S.U.V., one senior said she did not think the hazing this year was any worse than in past years, but "parents are taking it to an extreme level."

"Hazing has always been a tradition at Millburn," she said. "It's never really a personal attack. As a freshman you get pushed on the first day, and it reinforces the fact that they're seniors."

She got pushed three years ago. Did she do any pushing this year? "Not more than anyone else," she said.

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