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Students and faculty react to potential state law promoting hazing to felony charge

Just weeks after a 20-year-old Bowling Green State University (BGSU) student died in an alleged hazing incident, lawmakers are reintroducing a bill that would make hazing a felony in the state of Ohio.

The bill, also known as Collin’s Law, is named after Ohio University student Collin Wiant, who died in 2018 after a hazing incident at a fraternity annex house.

Senate Bill 126 aims to increase the penalties for hazing. It also hopes to provide more education about hazing at the college level and encourage more transparency from colleges when it comes to handling hazing investigations.

If passed, the bill would increase hazing from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree misdemeanor for general hazing, and to a third-degree felony for hazing involving drugs and alcohol.

Miami University has its own history of hazing – the Delta Tau Delta (Delts) fraternity was suspended in 2019. At Miami, the bill could result in harsher punishments for those convicted of hazing.

Ann James, director of the Office of Community Standards, pointed out that many of the Delts fraternity members received harsher punishments from the university than they did legally.

“You can see what the consequences were for the people involved, who were charged with hazing and found guilty of hazing,” James said. “They were misdemeanors. They weren't felonies, and the penalties were, in the grand scheme of things, pretty light. They probably actually had more serious consequences from the university than they did in the legal system.”

She also said if the state law were to change and give harsher penalties to students convicted of hazing, the university would follow suit.

“If there is a law associated with the policy that we have, we like to certainly be consistent with that,” James said. “And so we would look at the law and see, you know, do we need to modify our policy due to a change in the state law?”

In fall 2018, Miami created the Honoring Fraternity taskforce to provide recommendations on how to improve Greek life following concerns over drug and alcohol use. The goals of the taskforce were to “design a culture that develops and rewards student leadership through their participation in a fraternity,” “focus on academic excellence and student success,” and “address the nationwide challenges of hazing, high-risk alcohol and drug use while holding students and chapters accountable for standards,” according to Miami’s website.

“We were having numerous reports every spring semester around [hazing] and got to a point where we said, ‘This is not acceptable,’” said Scott Walter, assistant vice president for Student Life. “We also put the challenge out to the chapters [and] to the IFC leadership and to alumni to help us change that culture.”

Walter said following the recent events at BGSU, he hopes that those convicted of hazing will have harsher penalties in the future.

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“[Hazing] has no place anywhere … whether it's a fraternity, sorority, athletic team, a marching band – it's just got to stop,” Walter said. “It's got to stop. And at some point, yes, I don't know why it's not a felony. I don't know why there aren't strict penalties. So … I hope that we're not asking this question a year from now because somebody died at some other campus [and] to do that we've got to step up and there's got to be severe consequences and penalties for people's actions.”

Members of Miami’s Greek Life are also feeling the effects of hazing incidents at other universities and the push to increase legal punishments.

Alex Orr, the outgoing chapter president of Beta Theta Pi (Beta), said his fraternity has received negative attention at the national level due to hazing incidents, including the 2017 death of Beta member Tim Piazza at Penn State University.

Orr hopes that increasing the penalty for hazing incidents will encourage members to think not only of themselves, but of their organization as a whole.

“I think one of the things that's missing that's potentially causing the hazing to still be a problem is the lack of accountability for individual members rather than just that accountability going on the chapter as a whole,” Orr said.“I think if members of the Greek community know that they will personally be convicted and that they can get punished by themselves rather than just hiding behind the name of their chapter … that can do a great deal to reduce hazing and keep these guys safe going forward.”