U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican whose district includes part of eastern Lancaster County, recently introduced legislation designed to combat hazing on college campuses. The bill, called the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act, would “require incidents of hazing to be reported as part of a college’s annual crime report.” The bill would also establish a national definition for hazing and implement a hazing education program for students. News of the legislation came last month as a preliminary hearing continued for 16 members of a Penn State fraternity accused in the death of 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza. The hearing is scheduled to resume in August.
If there is anything useful to come of the horrific death of Timothy Piazza, it is that we have been forced to pay closer attention to the ridiculous and dangerous practice of hazing.
As the Piazza case has shown, we’re no longer talking about swallowing a goldfish, or being blindfolded and dropped off in a local park. Stupid and juvenile as those things might be, the death of the Penn State sophomore has revealed something much more reckless and sinister.
As part of a medieval drinking ritual, Piazza ran the “gauntlet” of alcoholic beverages — which included enough beer, wine and vodka to send the young man’s blood-alcohol level soaring to four times the legal limit.
Investigators say he repeatedly fell down a flight of basement stairs.
Piazza’s future fraternity brothers allegedly attempted to wake him by slapping him in the face, drenching him with water, and punching him in the stomach.
As The Associated Press reported, a heavy backpack was placed on Piazza to keep him from rolling onto his back and choking on his vomit.
It wasn’t until 12 hours after his first fall down the stairs that members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity called 911.
Piazza had sustained multiple traumatic brain injuries, a fractured skull and a ruptured spleen.
Penn State President Eric Barron, while calling the actions of the fraternity members “sickening” and “inhumane,” noted that Beta Theta Pi had been a “model fraternity” before this incident.
And skydiving is great fun until your parachute doesn’t open.
Besides, as CNN reported, the Penn State fraternity was cited twice — in 2009 and 2013 — for serving alcohol to minors. After Piazza’s death, Beta Theta Pi was permanently closed.
Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters are always quick to point out that fraternities and sororities do a great deal of community service and don’t all abuse alcohol. That’s true. But let’s not be naive here. There’s plenty of drinking and hazing going on at fraternity and sorority houses throughout the country. And, as we wrote in May, universities can enact all the anti-hazing policies they want, but when you put 20-year-olds in charge of teenagers eager to be accepted by their peers, without strict supervision, you’re asking for trouble.
A University of Maine study in 2008, which sampled 11,000 college students, found that 55 percent of students experienced some form of hazing. Yet of those, 95 percent never reported hazing to school officials or authorities.
The “boys will be boys/girls will be girls” mantra no longer holds water. Nor do the platitudes of university officials after something terrible happens. It’s clear from the Piazza case that universities are unable — or not interested enough — to police fraternities and put an end to hazing.
We applaud Meehan, along with U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, for introducing legislation that will make fraternities and universities more accountable for how their students behave.
Schools will be required to report hazing incidents via the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to release statistics on crime, including sexual assaults and illegal alcohol and drug use.
“By requiring colleges and universities to report hazing as part of their annual crime reports, we can both better understand the extent of the problem and encourage administrators to partner with students to reduce risky behavior,” Meehan said.
Penn State’s Barron said he supports the bill.
“Our support for this legislation aligns with our commitment to implement significant reforms as a leader in ensuring the safety and well-being of our students, and of the entire university community,” he said.
We urge our local representatives in Washington — Republicans and Democrats — to support this measure.
It’s sad that it might very well take an act of Congress to curtail — if not end — hazing. But that’s where we are.
Timothy Piazza wasn’t the first student to die as a result of a hazing ritual. The possibility that he won’t be the last is simply unacceptable.