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Enactments Reflect Hazing Crisis

Some high-profile cases of hazing have shed light on the terror many have faced in silence for years. Consequently, there have been a series of laws passed in attempt to curb the cruelty. New York was actually the first of many states to pass laws making hazing illegal.
The movement to criminalize hazing was jump-started after the death of an Alfred University student in the 1970s. While the governor of New York at the time had originally planned to veto the bill making hazing illegal, another hazing death of a student at Ithaca College swayed his opinion. In 1999, the South Carolina Senate passed a bill making it an obligation of the state’s Department of Education “to work to end hazing in its schools.” As the result of a particular 2001 hazing episode, a law was passed making death or serious bodily injury resulting from hazing a third degree felony in Florida.
The law was named after Chad Meredith, a University of Miami student who drowned while swimming across a lake infested with alligators as an act of initiation. The first students to be charged in violation of the anti-hazing law were members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Florida A&M University in 2005. By 2002, 43 states had passed legislation prohibiting hazing. As an example, Ohio’s Bill 444 criminalized “doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation unto any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to a person.” Similar laws nationwide take a step in the right direction for stopping the hazing crisis.
Today, certain law firms have chosen to specialize in hazing cases and some even put out specialty publications on the issue. New York State’s anti-hazing laws remain among the strictest in the United States. Nevertheless, most of this legislation has hardly been enough to stop hazing from continuing at establishments of higher learning. Some experts point to the fact that there are far too few law enforcement officers to be able to handle any serious percentage of hazing cases. Legal loopholes have also been used to avoid the punishment specified by regulations.
Laws against hazing by fraternities and sororities in Washington, Pennsylvania and a number of other states have been avoided when the hazing took place in other settings. Simultaneously, the penalties for hazing are extremely lenient, as the majority of states classify hazing as a misdemeanor. Even in cases of death, punishment for offenders is typically limited to community service or very brief jail sentences. As a result, the prevailing trend is for incidents to generate civil rather than criminal charges. Legal punishments for hazing need to be significantly stiffened to impede its use. With only weak penalties looming, offenders do not think twice about continuing.

– Rocco Zambito, Jr.
Student President

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