“We,” Not “Us” and “Them”

By Hetty Bai

Lumbering through thickets of dry, summer flora, my thirteen-year-old braces-baring acne-spotted self raced to the tennis courts. With sweaty palms and a giddy spirit, I was nervous and excited to finally join the high school tennis team. The team would be my first introduction to future classmates, and my first sense of belonging as a freshman.

New to the team, the freshmen and I were shown the ropes of the program. Practices started with light stretches and a jog and then proceeded to tryouts: forehands, backhands, water break and repeat. Any prior anxiousness was relieved as experienced upperclassmen introduced themselves, and timid freshmen (including me) chatted with other teammates.

An unwelcome tension sliced the air as one of the seniors stated “this is a job for the freshmen.”

However, at the end of the first day of practice, our growing bond was suddenly cracked. After all the equipment was picked up, everyone followed the seniors to the trainer’s room. In the room, the upperclassmen demonstrated how to fill up the water tanks. An unwelcome tension sliced the air as one of the seniors stated “this is a job for the freshmen.” Eyes bulged as the other seniors awkwardly shuffled their feet. In a matter of seconds, our developing camaraderie was severed as we, the freshmen, no longer felt accepted as part of the team, but instead felt alienated as the other, disposable teammates. We were not being treated as equals, but instead treated as servants. We were not given a responsibility, but given a chore that no other teammate was required to do. The apathetic justification—“When you’re seniors, you’ll get to boss the freshmen”—was just as disheartening. Our team was no longer unified; we could not describe our team as “we” but as “us” and “them.”

Because our girl’s tennis team has been around for over twenty years, it was difficult to break this history of our team’s hazing. Other classes did it to the past-freshmen, so the now-seniors felt they deserved to suppress the incoming freshmen. Thus, hazing became a cyclical tradition built upon freshmen injustice and senior vengeance. Voicing our opinions on this discrimination was too daunting for us novices, yet it was more daunting for those few seniors to act on their beliefs against hazing. But still, the few seniors against hazing began to trudge the water with us, the subservient underclassmen, as a form of silent protest. Steadily, other upperclassmen started to help out and the stand against hazing grew. It was not until my senior year that this so-called “tradition” disintegrated, and now every member of the team takes equal responsibility for this work. What started out as hazing in an innocent disguise now seems like a forgotten nightmare.

After the seniors bonded with us, the newcomers, the tainted vision of teamwork evaporated. A true team—one that comforts its members, not demoralizes them—is one that never inhibits the group’s collective success. Our previous “team” was one that subtly, but still unacceptably, promoted hazing. Hazing, whether viewed as a rite of passage or just a harmless joke, never strengthens comradeship: rather it provokes hostility. No member should feel inferior; no member should feel discriminated against. All members should feel welcomed, like a family. Now, after four years, I will be graduating from this intimate team, and from high school. Even though I arrived into the tennis program with the obstacle of hazing, I leave knowing that no future teammate should have to worry about experiencing anything less than respect, appreciation, and kinship.