How public policy at the state and federal levels is working to combat hazing

“For the first time we’re talking about hazing in a very real way. There’s been a culture of secrecy, in my view, of hazing for many, many years,” says Rep. Mari Leavitt, a Democrat who wrote the Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Law.

Last week, the Hazing Prevention Network urged colleges and universities to take part in reaffirming their stand against hazing as part of their commitment to National Hazing Prevention Week.

Pennsylvania State University, for example, brought multiple clubs together to offer educational activities and events to raise awareness around the issue. Additionally, in the aftermath of a fraternity member’s death in 2021, Virginia Commonwealth University recently announced its plans to join the Hazing Prevention Consortium, which analyzes members’ campus climates and attempts to develop and implement evaluating data-informed hazing prevention strategies.

However, critics of institutions’ initiatives would argue that they are little more than a PR tactic. Lucy Taylor, a 2020 University of Maryland graduate, dropped out of Alpha Phi and created the podcast “SNAPPED” to explore the nature of Greek life on campuses.

“They make it seem like change is happening, but those things that they’re doing to create change don’t actually have any power. If they wanted hazing to be gone, it would have been gone years ago,” Taylor said, according to Stateline. “They don’t do anything or they don’t do what they’re intended to do, and the hazing culture just becomes even more secret[ive] sic..”

Recent scandals across multiple esteemed athletic programs illustrate that hazing is not only associated with Greek life. Incidents at Northwestern University, New Mexico State University and most recently Boston College suggest that these egregious incidents can derive from a systemic problem rather than from isolated students.

“When there is tacit acceptance of sexual misconduct through an institution’s failure to discipline or separate from the abuser, the abuse will continue, and the entire institution will be weakened,” wrote Judie Saunders, a partner at ASK LLP in a University Business column. “University leadership that hushes abuse endangers students, welcomes scandal and ruins an institution’s reputation.”

Consequently, public policy has played an integral role in clamping down on hazing incidents across the country’s colleges and universities. This year, two state laws have enacted harsher punishments, and federal legislation is looking to be introduced as well.

  • Lofton’s Law was signed in Kentucky in March. It increases the penalty for hazing that leads to death or serious physical injury to a Class D felony. Offenders can face up to five years in prison. Reckless participation can result in a misdemeanor.
  • Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Law was signed into law in Washington State in May, marking it as the fifteenth state to elevate hazing to a felony in the United States. It passed in the House 96-0.

“For the first time, we’re talking about hazing in a very real way. There’s been a culture of secrecy, in my view, of hazing for many, many years,” says Rep. Mari Leavitt, a Democrat who wrote the bill, according to Stateline.

  • Stop Campus Hazing Act is a piece of federal legislation set to be introduced to Congress by the end of this year. It’s mainly focused on building transparency in college hazing investigations, such as requiring mandatory public reporting of these incidents and implementing comprehensive prevention programs.

“Hazing is often underreported, underrecognized, and it’s really not being taken as seriously as it should be given the harmful impact that it has on individuals and communities,” said Jessica Mertz, the executive director of the Clery Center.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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