Hazing is and has been a serious issue for decades, but states have only just recently begun to take measures to combat it. In recent years, more states have begun to draft and implement anti-hazing laws that make hazing a crime. After the death of a 19-year-old Penn State student in 2017, Pennsylvania has joined the ranks in making hazing a punishable criminal offense.
According to the anti-hazing laws published by Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, hazing refers to any act or situation which intentionally or recklessly compromises the safety or physical or mental health of another student for the purpose of initiating or admitting that student into an organization that operates under the sanction of an institution of higher education. Hazing may also occur when a student or group of students destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of admission or for continued membership in a fraternity or sorority.
Hazing is a broad term that may include brutality that is physical in nature and activities that subject one or more individuals to extreme mental duress. Examples of illegal hazing activities include but are not limited to whipping, branding, forced calisthenics, forced consumption of food, alcohol or drugs, sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social interaction and the forced or willful removal of private or public property.
In most cases, the state of Pennsylvania will charge any person who participates in or initiates hazing proceedings with a third-degree misdemeanor. Institutions of higher learning are also required to implement their own anti-hazing policies with specified punishments, which may include but not be limited to fines, the withholding of diplomas or transcripts, suspension or dismissal. If an entire organization is guilty of blatantly disregarding a school’s hazing rules, the school may rescind its permission for that organization to operate on campus.
According to NBC News, the death of the 19-year-old Penn State student prompted lawmakers to take a stricter approach to hazing. The new anti-hazing laws, which went into effect in November of 2018, classifies hazing incidents that result in severe injury or death as felonies. Lawmakers hope that the new law serves as a deterrent to egregious behavior that is physically and mentally damaging and possibly life-threatening.