Jennifer Hall knows a lot about teenagers. She teaches them. And she parents one. On Friday night, she happened onto a group of teens in West Seattle’s Solstice Park, engaged in behavior troubling enough to cause her eventually to call 911. Here’s her story:
I was walking my dogs up from the pea patches into Solstice Park at 6 PM. There were around 15-20 young people there, laughing raucously, squealing. Young men were yelling at the young girls to “Come hither, ladies!” After being at the park for about a minute, I realized that they were high school students.
There were beer cans, white powder, and plastic containers littering the grass. One of my dogs was especially interested in a large fleshy thing that they were batting around on the grass. I walked into the group to look at it. It was a large animal heart — a pig’s or a cow’s. The young people were not hostile to me, but I could smell alcohol, and I could tell by the way that some of the boys were slurring their speech that they were drunk. I told them I was a high-school teacher myself, and I asked what high school they were from. One of the boys said, “Roosevelt.” I said, “You’ve got beer cans all over the place, and you’ve obviously been drinking. You’ve driven here from Roosevelt, and you’re planning on driving back impaired? How old are you?” “Eighteen!”, one very young-looking girl replied. I said, “Well, that’s a lie. You drove here from Roosevelt, a bunch of you are drunk and you’re planning on driving back?” There was a chorus of, “We’re OK!” and other protests.
I asked the girls, who appeared younger than the boys, “Do your parents know where you are, and who you’re with?” Again, there was a chorus of, “We’re OK! We’re just having fun!”
A boy said, “Listen, ma’am! We’re cleaning up and we’re getting out of here!” A couple of the young men began racing around, and picking up beer cans. I told them that they were obviously drunk; that they had brought younger students out to West Seattle; that they were doing the wrong thing; that I was calling the police. A large group ran at that point, leaving some shoes, socks, and a backpack. I took a photo of the last of them running [above], and one of a couple girls.
With most of the group gone, one young girl walked up to me and said, “Excuse me. I didn’t have anything to drink, and I’ve called my mother to come pick me up at Lincoln Park.” She told me that she was fourteen years old, and that this was “froshing [freshmen hazing]” involving numerous students from Garfield. She said, “We didn’t know that they would bring us all the way out here.” I asked, “Do you know the boys you’re with?” She said, “Yeah. For a little while. Since school started.” I dialed 911 as she dialed her friend. I heard her tell her friend to come back up and wait with her, that she had called her mother, and that her mother would drive them both home.
I informed the 911 operator about what was going on, noting that the students had run away, leaving a fair amount of stuff behind — that they would probably be back. I told him that I had talked with a young girl who was waiting for her mom. Her friend came back to wait with her. The operator said, “Well, ma’am, it’s Friday night. There’s a lot of stuff going on in West Seattle. Do you think that this is something that needs an officer?” I said that I was concerned that young men were driving impaired with underage girls in the cars with them. “Are they there now?” asked the operator. I basically gave the 911 operator a play by play as two young men came back to gather up the backpacks, shoes and socks. They had put on jackets with the hoods up and drawn tightly over their faces. They said to the two girls, “Come on, let’s go! Come on, let’s go!” repeatedly. The girl who had approached me told them more than once, “NO! I’ve called my mother, and she’s coming to get us.” I told the 911 operator that I would take the girls to meet the mother. The boys took off running. My 911 call disconnected at one point, and the officer called me back to ask if I wanted the police there. I reiterated my concern about the young men driving. He asked me if I could describe the cars. I could not, because I was standing on top of the hill in Solstice Park. They’d run down the hill into the neighborhood where their cars were parked. I said, “You might want to be on the lookout for drunk high-school kids driving down Fauntleroy in the next few minutes.”
The girl who had approached me called her mother again, and asked me to talk to her. Her mother was not that familiar with West Seattle. I directed her to meet us at a spot nearby on Fauntleroy, and I led the girls down. On the way to meet her mother, the girl reported some alarming things to me. She and her friend had agreed to go to someone’s house near Garfield to be “froshed,” but “I thought we were just going to be squirted with ketchup or something.” When they arrived at the house, male upperclassmen were beating freshmen boys with some kind of “switches” — she wasn’t sure what they were made of. The boys doing the hazing were already drinking — probably more than beer, she thought. They covered the girls with various gross, slimy stuff. They were cold and wet. Another girl lent them sweatshirts to cover up. They were made them touch the animal heart, among other things. They got into a girl’s car, they said — other frosh girls rode with the boys. They drove them to Solstice Park, continued drinking and “froshing,” until my dogs and I walked over.
The two fourteen-year-old girls I was with were obviously glad to be taken out of the situation they had found themselves in. They spoke of it as “creepy.” When the girl’s mother arrived, she thanked me. I told her that I thought her daughter and her daughter’s friend had made the right decision — to get away from the group. Mom and daughter knocked knuckles. “They’re smart girls,” the mother said. “They know how to do the right thing.” Mom was obviously concerned. I could see that she was worried, but she did an excellent job of validating the girls’ decision. I told them that I would contact Garfield and say that they need to talk to parents, and to the whole student body about this. The students involved in doing this need to be held accountable.
This “froshing” — this HAZING –might be thought of by some as a rite of passage for high-school students. Hopefully, though, most parents can see it for what it is. Fun for some or not, it’s BULLYING. And it’s bullying involving alcohol, driving, possible drug use, physical and psychological harassment, and possible sexual harassment. The girls I saw were freshmen. They had baby faces. They were not more than fifteen years old. There are huge developmental differences between seniors and freshmen in high school. As a teacher, and as a parent, I have great concerns about freshmen girls riding in cars with upperclassmen boys — especially when there is alcohol involved. I was somewhat taken aback that the 911 operator didn’t seem particularly concerned about the intoxicated underage kids I was calling about. But what did I expect? That parks would be protected? That our kids have nothing to fear?
This incident, for me, underscored the need for us to know who our children are with, where they are going, and what parents are supervising, even if our kids are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old, and actively pushing us away as fast as they can. It is our charge to push back. Loving and protecting our children means teaching them how to police themselves, and teaching them about hazing. I am going to keep speaking out about this. By the way, hazing is against the law in Washington. Individuals and institutions can be held libel for damages (RCW.28b.10.901 & RCW.28b.10.902). Unfortunately, these laws only apply to post-secondary education!
As I was writing this, my husband read some of the definitions of hazing on stophazing.org. What this organization says about high-school hazing is particularly telling. I would encourage all parents, students, and high-school staff persons to read it.
We also found hazing listed as a Seattle Public Schools “district offense,” defined as “initiating students into a school, group, grade level, or office through persecuting, harassing, or coercive behaviors that cause or are likely to cause social or emotional harm.” This is from the “Basic Rules of Seattle Public Schools” policies, meant to cover behavior at school and school-sponsored events, but certainly notable in this context just the same. Meantime, some of this apparently was witnessed by at least one other person, who left a seemed-odd-at-the-time post on the WSB Facebook wall.