Hazing a serious crime with unanticipated consequences

Students are held responsible for a broad definition of hazing, one they often do not fully understand.

In light of recent events, the conversation around campus indicates that students don’t really know what hazing is. With dozens of policies coming from different sources, who can blame them?

Will Keim, a professional speaker on college life and ethical decision making, summarized the rules in just one sentence: If you have to ask, it’s hazing. Keim has spoken at more than 2,000 college campuses about hazing, and his policy has been reprinted in hundreds of sites on the Internet because it sums up in seven words what other policies can’t say in a thousand. Simply put, hazing has a definition so broad that very few people know all it entails.

While society’s definition of hazing often stems from wild stories about Greek initiation processes, the legal definition includes a variety of acts that could affect any student. But students are held accountable for hazing in any of its forms, most of which they don’t even know are considered hazing.

First, hazing is not just for Greeks and athletes. The law includes groups like honor societies, service clubs and religious organizations, which are less likely to educate members on hazing policies. While some groups are exposed to the details of these policies when they join their organization, other students often have little to no exposure at all.

Second, hazing isn’t just paddling and push-ups. The law’s jargon-filled definitions incorporate a multitude of possible offenses. Examples of hazing offenses include any type of physical activity and any activity involving forced consumption of a food or liquid, including alcoholic beverages. Also, any activity that intimidates or threatens the student with ostracism, or subjects the student to extreme mental stress, shame or humiliation in order to gain or maintain membership in a group is considered hazing. The list of possible offenses goes on. Some Greek organizations even have definitions that prohibit asking new members to memorize songs, founder’s names, creeds and other documents or history.

Third, hazing can take place both on and off campus, according to the TCU Fraternity and Sorority Life Web site. Offenders are responsible to both the law and the university for their actions, regardless of where they take place.

Fourth, the punishment for hazing is no slap on the wrist. Anti-hazing laws exist in 44 states, including Texas. A hazing offense that does not cause serious bodily injury to another is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and confinement in county jail for up to 180 days, or both, according to Texas state law.

Furthermore, encouraging, permitting or failing to report incidents of hazing are crimes as well. In fact, failing to report a hazing incidence has the same maximum sentence as an actual hazing offense.

If students are to be held responsible for hazing in its broadest definition, they need to be aware of what it is. Many seemingly harmless practices become crimes when put into the context of anti-hazing laws. While some groups are educated extensively on hazing, others are not, but both are held equally responsible if they break the law. Students are legally obligated to report hazing when they see it, which they can’t do if they don’t know what it is.

It’s not realistic to expect students to be legal experts upon entering college. Hazing laws should be more straightforward, and all students should have equal rights to education concerning them before entering the university setting. Clearly articulated hazing laws and policies would eliminate accidental cases and help students identify hazing when they see it.

Andrea Drusch is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from Lake Dallas.