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Miami hopes hazing laws can deter campus hazing

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Being criminally charged for hazing on a college campus is incredibly rare.

Since Ohio legislators enacted a 1983 law denoting hazing as a fourth degree misdemeanor, there have only been six instances in which members of a fraternity were charged with hazing their fellow brothers and/or new members in the law’s 36-year-existence.

Those first five instances include two cases in Bowling Green (one in 1988 and 2008), another in Cleveland in 2006, a 2009 charge in Athens and a 2014 incident in Akron, all extensively documented by The Columbus Dispatch last May.

The sixth case hasn’t made it to court yet.

When a Butler County grand jury handed down 68 counts of hazing and assault against 18 former brothers from Miami University’s Delta Tau Delta (Delts) fraternity on Oct. 3 —  for repeatedly assaulting a new member last spring —  it marked only the sixth time hazing has resulted in criminal charges in the state of Ohio.

Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, has a particular interest in hazing. He keeps a database on all hazing deaths that have taken place at universities across the country from 1838 to present.

Nuwer said he doesn’t think Ohio’s hazing charges are strict enough and hopes to see a change in the near future.

“I expect that, in time, Ohio will get a little bit tougher [with hazing laws],” Nuwer said. “These are still very serious charges and people’s lives are at stake.”

Miami’s recent history of hazing issues have been on Nuwer’s radar for more than a decade. In 1990, when writing his book “Broken Pledges,” he spent two to three weeks in Oxford researching Miami’s fraternities. He believes Miami has a culture of hazing and isn’t surprised about the recent incidents.

“It’s difficult to get hazing to stop when there is such a culture,” Nuwer said. “It’s this standard of masculinity. Kind of a misplaced one. There is this idea of a need for a right of passage, dependence on other members in the group and the effect of leaders on the weaker followers. All these seem to be present here with this Delta Tau Delta incident.”

In order to change this culture, Nuwer said it must start with the students. He also believes that universities can send a powerful message by removing fraternities after they are found guilty of hazing.

“There has to be a movement at the student level to have the cultural shift,” Nuwer said. “To say that hazing is simply not worth it [and see] there are other ways to bond … I don’t think Delta Tau Delta should come back … I think it needs to be removed for a substantial amount of time … It sends a really big message to individual chapters.”

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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