How Ohio presidents are trying to stop hazing before fall

Public university leaders release list of principles to students.
By: | July 28, 2021
bottle of alcohol with drinking man. Serious unhappy sad man sitting. alcohol addiction. social problems

Presidents from all of Ohio’s public universities recently unveiled a set of new principles they hope will end a heinous practice that has resulted in two tragic incidents on campuses in their state in the past three years: hazing.

The Inter-University Council of Ohio’s new guidelines promise a zero-tolerance policy and “severe sanctions” toward students, staff, and especially organizations that engage in it. Presidents also announced they were strongly for the proposed state Senate Bill 126 that effectively will lead to stronger punishments for criminal offenses resulting from hazing. One of those is to completely disbar students charged with hazing from attending any other Ohio public university.

“To stop hazing, we must change the culture that sees it as acceptable behavior,” IUC President & CEO Bruce Johnson said. “The IUC Council of Presidents’ Anti-Hazing Principles send a powerful message that Ohio’s public universities will drive that culture change toward our shared goal of eliminating hazing.”

The urgency among universities and state political leaders, including Gov. Mike DeWine, comes months after Bowling Green State University fraternity pledge Stone Foltz, 20, died after consuming large amounts of alcohol at a party he was required to attend. Eight individuals, including members at Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, were charged with manslaughter or hazing. His parents have been instrumental in trying to get new legislation passed. In 2018, Ohio University student Collin Wiant died after being forced to inhale nitrous oxide from a canister during a Greek party. Both universities permanently banned the two fraternities from campuses.

“Every year, college students across the nation are injured or killed during events associated with hazing,” said Dr. Hugh Sherman, President of Ohio University. “While we have worked diligently to address this pervasive problem in myriad ways, the IUC principles help to reinforce the message that this anti-social, bullying behavior will not be tolerated at our universities.”

As they head toward the fall semester, Ohio presidents are trying to put in place tougher standards and expectations for behavior as they welcome back populations. In 2020, no campus hazing deaths were reported nationwide, the first time in more than six decades that has occurred. But it’s difficult to truly know whether any did occur since only 5% of all incidents are reported. As students returned in the spring and campuses began to open up, so did organizations. And Foltz’s death was not only the only one. Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old pledging a fraternity at Virginia Commonwealth University, also died of alcohol intoxication.

Ohio’s new Anti-Hazing Principles include:

  • Automatic dismissal of any student convicted of criminal hazing and debarment from attending any other Ohio public university in accordance with the law.
  • Parterning with law enforcement to deter and end hazing.
  • Empowering advisors to student organizations.
  • Working with families and alumni on hazing, including where and how to report it.
  • Providing better access and education on anti-hazing programs, as well as hazing violation data for students interested in joining organizations.
  • Offering better outlets for reporting hazing.

Most hazing incidents occur at fraternities, but they also happen on athletic teams, in clubs and in other organizations. StopHazing.org and HazingPrevention.org note that more than half of students are subjected to hazing each year. More than 40% of the time, advisors or coaches knew that practices were occurring. The negative consequences beyond the most extreme incidents are fights, injuries and poor academic performances among those who are hazed.

Colleges and universities seeking further guidance on hazing prevention can lean on nonprofit Clery Center, which features a number of resources, including a toolkit that contains a framework of eight strategies to combat the practice: Commitment, Capacity, Assessment, Planning, Evaluation, Cultural Competence, Sustainability, and Implementation.