Social Norms Campaign

Attitudes and beliefs vary when it comes to college hazing. However, nearly everyone can agree that joining a group, team, or organization should never compromise the safety of an individual or that of their community. In fact, 91% of Cornell students say "It's NEVER okay to humiliate or intimidate new group members."

Why share this statistic?

Research shows college students tend to overestimate the extent to which other students are engaging in risky and potentially harmful behavior. Students also tend to exaggerate the extent to which their peers "support" or find such behavior socially acceptable. Such misperceptions influence an individual's behavior. 

Messages that include actual data to correct misperceptions and bolster positive norms are often referred to as "social norms messages."  

Where did the numbers come from?

The most recent data used in our social norms campaign came from the Spring 2021 CUE— "Cornell Undergraduate Experience" (N = 4,208 respondents, 40% response rate). Previously, the data have come from Cornell's "Perceptions of Undergraduate Life & Student Experiences (PULSE)" Survey and the "Membership Activities in Student Clubs, Organizations, and Teams (MASCOT)" Survey. Analysis of the data was provided by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning. All research was approved by the Institutional Review Board.

Social norms messages may be experienced by students—as well as the faculty and staff who work with them—as surprising, affirming or disturbing.

  • Among those whose behavior reflects the norm, students may be encouraged to learn that others feel the same way too. And, they may be more likely to speak up if they see something happening that is hurting others.
  • Among the subset of students who are acting problematic ways (humiliating or intimidating others in the group), social norms messages may raise the uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance. In these cases, it is not unusual that students challenge the validity of the data in the message.

Will data change behavior at Cornell?

Signs are good! We are happy to report that the percentage of Cornell students who agree with this social norms message has been rising. When we first published the extent to which students thought it was never okay to humiliate or intimidate new members (in 2014), the number was only 83%. It has steadily climbed since then... first to 87% (2015 & 2017) then to 90% (2018) and now to 91% (2021)!

Despite our progress, there is no "silver bullet" or single strategy that will entirely curtail hazing and its attendant harms. These social norms messages are part of a wider, more comprehensive approach to hazing prevention at Cornell. Faculty, staff, students, and members of the Ithaca community have guided the development of a comprehensive public health approach to addressing hazing at Cornell.

Who can I talk to about this campaign?

  • For copies of campaign materials: contact the Director of Communications at Cornell Health, Jennifer Austin, MPH

  • To discuss the social norms data, or hazing-related services: contact the Assistant Director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, Laura Santacrose, MPH