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Hazing: Not a Tradition Worth Keeping

NEW SCHOOL YEAR, NEW PLEDGES

As a new academic year gets underway at colleges and universities across the country, students arrive on campus seeking to find ways to belong and feel welcome in their new environment. Sometimes, their goal is less social and more career-oriented, and they search out organizations that will assist them in finding employment opportunities. Not to be overlooked are the students that simply want a good time in the storied tradition of their fathers and grandfathers.

All of these students add up to app. 100,000 young men choosing to be initiated into fraternities nationwide every year as of August 2018, with app. 400,000 young men in fraternities nationwide at any given time. These numbers represent a 50% increase over the past decade.

Yet fraternities have come under increasing scrutiny in the past decade. Pledging, particularly the practice of hazing, has become extremely controversial due to a number of high-profile and often brutal deaths resulting from it. Timothy Piazza, the undergraduate at Penn State University who died while pledging Beta Theta Pi, is perhaps the most well-known of the recent hazing-death stories. The Piazza family settled their lawsuit against Penn State only a few weeks ago on September 5, 2018. Max Gruver, the undergraduate at Louisiana State University who died almost exactly one year ago while pledging Phi Delta Theta, was from Roswell, Georgia; the Max Gruver Act was signed into law on May 31, 2018 by the governor of Louisiana and strengthens the penalties for hazing. The list of young men who have died from “hazing incidents” is long and heart-wrenching. What can be done to stop the annual additions to this list?

ANTI-HAZING COALITION

Some parents who have lost children to hazing deaths—such as Timothy Piazza’s parents—formed the Anti-Hazing Coalition in August of 2018. The Coalition partners with fraternities and sororities on campuses around the country with the goal of stopping hazing. Their three main ways of achieving that goal are:

1. Passing legislation that classifies hazing as a felony, and has stricter penalties for a conviction;

2. Making college students more educated and aware of the dangers of hazing, particularly where copious amounts of alcohol are involved; teaching students how they can intervene in a dangerous hazing situation;

3. Engaging fraternity and sorority members in educating high school students about the dangers of hazing and bullying in order to prevent the next class of pledges from hazing.

PROPOSALS

In addition to the above goals of the Anti-Hazing Coalition, more radical changes to Greek Life have been proposed. Some advocate that the practice of pledging itself be discontinued; after all, joining a fraternity (or sorority) need not involve a process that carries so much risk. Arguably, people can apply to a fraternity/sorority, have a background check completed, and be voted in or out. Period.

Other proposals focus on investigating all hazing incidents—large or small. If small incidents are taken seriously, the argument goes, then large incidents should not develop. Along these lines, Penn State University President Dr. Barron advocates for an online safety database that would record hazing incidents at all fraternity/sorority chapters around the country. Such a database would be able to track which fraternities and sororities on a national level are doing good work in communities and which are experiencing alarming trends. Passing a law known as The Reach Act, which would require colleges and universities to publicly report hazing incidents under the Clery Act, would help this effort and would put a spotlight on the dangers of hazing.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured in a hazing incident at school, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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