In 2017, Ohio State temporarily suspended all its fraternities amidst allegations involving hazing.
In October, Ohio University did the same.
Now, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has called on lawmakers to introduce stricter punishments for hazing.
DeWine said the state should make hazing at least a fourth-degree felony in a Columbus Dispatch interview Nov. 10. Ohio’s current criminal hazing statute, written in 1983, sets the punishment at a fourth-degree misdemeanor, Daniel Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, said.
“This type of behavior, hazing activities, are disgusting and shouldn’t have any place in the collegiate experience,” Tierney said.
According to the Ohio State Code of Student Conduct, hazing is “doing, requiring or encouraging any act, whether or not the act is voluntarily agreed upon, in conjunction with initiation or continued membership or participation in any group that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm or humiliation. Such acts may include, but are not limited to, use of alcohol, creation of excessive fatigue, and paddling, punching or kicking in any form.”
The code of conduct includes noninitiation hazing in its definition and failure to report a hazing incident as a violation.
The maximum punishment for a hazing charge under Ohio’s current law is 30 days in jail and a $250 charge, according to criminaldefenselawyer.com. A fourth-degree felony would impose a maximum sentence of 18 months and a $5,000 charge.
Tierney also said that although stricter laws could discourage people from reporting hazing, DeWine thinks Ohio should include a safe-harbor rule to protect bystanders and witnesses who call emergency services.
“Any time someone is not getting oxygen to the brain, time is critical. These types of things have been common in some of these hazing incidents that have made national news,” Tierney said. “What you don’t want to do is, by strengthening the statute, discourage people from getting help for someone who is being injured.”
The Dispatch interview with DeWine took place after the paper published an investigative report on the death of Collin Wiant, a pledge at the Epsilon chapter of Sigma Pi at Ohio University.
Wiant was an 18-year-old pledge of Sigma Pi and died Nov. 12, 2018, after collapsing on the floor of an unofficial, off-campus fraternity house, according to Dispatch reporting.
“The Dispatch, to their credit, and the Wiant family, to their credit, have used this tragedy to shine a light on some of the limitations in the statute,” Tierney said.
Tierney said the governor thinks Ohio law’s current definition of hazing is too narrow, only applying to an initiation process, and hazing can happen in organizations without a formal initiation process, such as athletic teams or marching bands. He also said the governor thinks a revised statute should include mandatory reporting.
According to the Office of Student Life’s website, 12 percent of Ohio State’s student body is involved in Greek life.
In 2017, Ohio State temporarily suspended all Greek life, following investigations of 11 fraternities, the majority of which involved hazing or alcohol, Dave Isaacs, university spokesperson, said in previous Lantern reporting.
In January 2018, Beta Theta Pi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau were placed on disciplinary probation for hazing and alcohol-related violations. Beta was on probation until May 2018, SAE was placed on probation until December 2018 and ZBT was on probation until May 2019, according to the investigations released by Ohio State.
It was not the first time many of these fraternities had faced disciplinary action.
Ohio State’s Beta Theta Pi chapter was shut down by its national headquarters in 2012 until January 2014, following confirmed incidents of hazing. Tau Kappa Epsilon also was suspended by Ohio State in 2001 for hazing. Delta Chi was removed from campus for five years in 2003 for hazing and alcohol-related violations.
A 2003 press release announcing the Delta Chi ban said the fraternity had been “providing alcohol to underage persons, creating situations that encouraged consumption of dangerous amounts of alcohol and ‘ditching,’ in which members were abducted, had their hands bound, were forced into vehicles and held in an off-campus location for a period of time.”
Ohio State gives potential new Greek life members information on how to identify a code of conduct violation and report it, Isaacs said in an email. Ohio State also provides outreach to parents about the joining process and has published lists of organizations that have been banned.
The North American Interfraternity Conference has created a model state law in collaboration with national fraternity and sorority leaders, parents of hazing victims and prosecuting attorneys, Todd Shelton, NIC’s chief communication officer, said in an email. He said NIC is supportive of legislation that strengthens penalties for hazing, and Judson Horras, NIC president, recently spoke in front of Ohio lawmakers to advocate for anti-hazing legislation.
“We believe every student has the right to learn and thrive in a safe and healthy campus environment. While there is no silver bullet, strengthening the criminal penalties in state law will serve as a major deterrent to those individuals who would consider hazing,” Shelton said.