Proposed state bill clarifies definition of hazing

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State Sen. Judith Zaffirini proposed a bill in November that, if enacted, would update and clarify the legal definition and repercussions of hazing. 

Senate Bill 33 amends Texas’ hazing statute, created in 1995 and followed by universities statewide. Zaffirini filed similar legislation in 2007 and 2009. This version, which would take effect on Sept. 1, 2015, is a refile of the 2009 version, Zaffirini said in an email.

The amended bill includes a narrower definition of immunity from prosecution and adds that coercing a student to drink alcohol or creating “an environment in which the student reasonably feels coerced” is part of the definition of hazing, among other amendments that specify terms and procedures.

Zaffirini included more specific descriptions of alcohol-related hazing and cases of immunity in SB 33 because she felt the state’s current hazing statute was inadequate.

“[T]he statute does not address adequately the dangers of alcohol-related hazing,” Zaffirini said in an email. “[T]he immunity provisions for those reporting hazing are unclear and arguably create the perverse possibility that students can avoid liability by reporting their own acts of hazing.”

The Office of the Dean of Students declined to comment on the proposed bill. 

“Once a [hazing] case has been filed, I know the Dean of Students takes it very seriously,” Interfraternity Council President Edwin Qian said. “As for the details of the investigation process or the mutual agreements after that, it’s determined by the Dean of Students and the organization itself.”

Zaffirini said she filed the bill because hazing is a serious issue in Texas and the rest of the country.

“A study by the Children’s National Medical Center reported that, in the last 57 years, English-language newspapers reported more than 250 cases of death linked to bullying or hazing — at least 55 of which were associated specifically with hazing,” Zaffirini said. “What’s more, the problem has shown no signs of abating. A recent Bloomberg article reported that ‘more than 60 people [nationally] have died in fraternity-related events since 2005, many involving alcohol abuse and hazing.’”

Qian said updating the bill is important because, like with any law, people find loopholes that must be addressed. He said that publicizing this information to student organizations, Greek and non-Greek, is necessary to prevent hazing on campus. 

“It’s really to get the message out and be proactive from the law enforcement side — letting organizations know what is okay and what is not,” Qian said. “If you want people to follow the rules, you have to tell them about the rules and help them understand the rules.” 

In the proposed amendments, an individual who reports his or her own hazing will have immunity from prosecution. Zaffirini said maintaining discussion and state regulation on hazing is essential to keeping students on college campuses safe.

“The safety of students on campus must be our top priority,” Zaffirini said. “Efforts to combat hazing and to protect those who come forward to report hazing would not only help keep students safe but also enhance the educational experience of students statewide.”

Qian said the amended immunity clause of the bill will keep the Greek system and other organizations accountable.

“Some people might be afraid to be the whistle blower, so having that in there is really going to help people understand why it is important to report these actions and encouraging people in a way to help this campus become a hazing-free campus,” Qian said.