By Andrew Beluk, Staff Writer
In many movies about college, there is a common step between rushing a fraternity or sorority and becoming an official member; hazing. The pledges in these films are generally required to drink a dangerous amount of alcohol or participate in some cult-like ‘ritual’, and everyone wakes up fine the next morning. However, in real life, hazing is a dangerous activity responsible for roughly 77 deaths since 2005. Forty-four states have laws that treat hazing incidents as a misdemeanor, but only 12 have stricter laws for hazing incidents that result in someone’s death.
On October 19th, Governor Tom Wolf signed the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, making Pennsylvania among the states on the “stricter laws” list. It is set to take effect this month. The law will create harsher criminal penalties for hazing incidents, including up to seven years in prison. It even allows the courts to confiscate the fraternity homes of any organization found guilty of a hazing resulting in death. All schools in Pennsylvania will now be required to report any hazing incidents and adopt new policies to lower the number of incidents. Overall, the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law has been referred to as “one of the strictest anti-hazing laws in the nation,” although it does allow for leniency towards one who calls for emergency help and stays by the victim until the help arrives.
The law is named after Timothy Piazza, a Penn State student who tragically died during a hazing incident at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in February 2017. Piazza was forced to consume a dangerous amount of alcohol, which caused him to repeatedly fall until he lost consciousness. Sadly, the members of the fraternity did absolutely nothing to help Piazza and refused to call an ambulance for 40 minutes. He passed away the next day. So far, about twenty-six of the fraternity members have faced criminal charges, with several others awaiting trial.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy’s parents, have become national figures in the anti-hazing push and have been advocating for this law since the passing of their son. Their hope is that if hazing is treated more seriously by the prosecutors, juries, and judges, “we’ll see changes” to the number of hazing incidents.
There has been a growing trend to push for stricter anti-hazing laws since an unfortunately similar incident in South Carolina. Tucker Hipps, a student of Clemson University and pledge of Sigma Phi Epsilon, was found passed away in September 2014 in Lake Hartwell after a fraternity early morning jog, which was likely a hazing event. Tucker’s parents, Cindy and Gary Hipps, have been zealous advocates for anti-hazing laws ever since, and successfully brought the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act before the South Carolina legislature and into law in 2016. The bill requires any disciplinary infractions committed by any and all campus organizations to be made publicly available. An update to the law was passed in October, which added more definitions, a tier system of offenses, a 15-year minimum on felony hazing incidents, and expands the law to include all schools in South Carolina.
The tragedy these parents have gone through has led many to come together to support the cause. On February 23rd, Cindy Hipps organized an anti-hazing retreat in South Carolina for them to come together. The Piazza family also attended the retreat. Parents United to Stop Hazing – or PUSH – was a weekend, not only of support and grieving, but to work to make their voices as loud as possible to shift the public and legal discourse on hazing, and for the parents to share the information they had on the subject and how best to approach their shared goal. Cindy Hipps has described all of the information there is to understand on the topic as “overwhelming”, making such a gathering all the more helpful and important.
While this group pushes their state legislatures to follow the lead of states like South Carolina and Pennsylvania, there were also ideas to educate middle schoolers on the dangers of hazing well before high school, and to talk with the national heads of fraternities with the worst hazing records to help them create new policies and means of enforcement.
Unfortunately, every new law has a tragic story of loss and grief behind it. But as more legislatures adopt stricter laws against hazing, more lives can be saved from a needless tragedy. And that’s precisely what the Hipps, Piazzas, and so many other families are working and fighting to accomplish.