Following the much-publicized hazing
instance that left a 21-year-old pledge of the Sigma Chi fraternity
hospitalized with kidney failure, state lawmakers have proposed
legislation that would make such incidents a prosecutable offense.
Under the provisions of the bill, hazing in public and private
institutions can result in anywhere from 93 days in prison and a
$1,000 fine for a non-serious injury, to 20 years in prison with a
$10,000 fine for injuries resulting in death. Even with the consent
of the victim, hazing is often a dangerous practice, but the
proposed legislation should not become law because of the ambiguous
way in which it defines the term hazing.

According to the bill, sponsored by state Sens. Michelle McManus
(R-Lake Leelanaw) and Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor), forced alcohol
consumption, physical brutality and inducing criminal activity are
all correctly defined as hazing, but so are less specific acts like
“exposure to the elements, confinement in a small space or
calisthenics.” Such broad wording inevitably forces fraternities
and prosecutors alike to rely on subjectivity. Asking a pledge to
run errands during Winter Rush, for instance, when the weather is
cold, can be viewed as either innocuous or torturous under this
law. Furthermore, the anti-hazing bill fails to acknowledge varying
levels of severity of the hazing; there is a stark distinction
between forcing pledges to exercise without water to the point of
needing kidney dialysis and demanding a couple of jumping jacks in
unison. As written, however, both these acts fall under the overly
simplistic umbrella of “calisthenics.”

Although the proposed legislation takes a harsh stance against
the hazing that takes place within the Greek systems at
universities, it is far from clear on similar behavior in non-Greek
organizations, such as athletic teams and the military. Stating
that hazing rules do not apply to activity that is “normal and
customary” for such venues, the bill neglects recent eye-openers
like Long Island’s Mepham High School where three football players
are currently under investigation on allegations that they
sodomized three 13- and 14-year-old junior varsity players with
broomsticks, pine cones and golf balls as part of a disgusting
initiation process.

Despite its stigma, the process of initiation is not inherently
bad. Special ceremonies are in fact an excellent way to introduce
new members to an organization, increase camaraderie and instill
tradition, as long as these actions do not put new members in
danger. The bill makes no clear distinction between these harmless
initiation activities and hazing.

Hazing can be a serious problem, but the proposed legislation is
not the solution. Existing laws can often punish offenders for
other forms of criminal activity, not specifically as hazing
incidents. The bill is well intentioned, but it is an ill-advised
response to a legitimate concern. This legislation paints a nuanced
and subjective issue with too broad a brush.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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