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New Hazing Bill Amendment in Texas Would Quash Amnesty Clause: Daily Texan

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Hazing code changes would repeal automatic immunity

Mohini Madgavkar

Daily Texan Staff
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Published: Friday, March 27, 2009

Updated: Friday, March 27, 2009

Ryan Weinheimer’s pledgeship to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in the fall of 2005 was cut short when one of his pledge brothers alerted representatives from the Interfraternity Council to the fraternity’s use of hazing.

“I think we had Vaseline in our hair,” said Weinheimer, a philosophy senior. “We hadn’t slept for probably 24 to 35 hours, and so when they walked in, obviously the fraternity sent us all home to wait and see what IFC was going to do.”

Weinheimer said that typically, hazing was more mental than physical.

“It’s more of a mind-fuck thing,” he said. “It was like staying up at the house for really long periods of time building. People of course are, like, yelling at you, making you do random shit for them.”

But Weinheimer admitted that pledges were pushed to do calisthenics and prevented from bathing.

In an effort to deter student organizations from hazing, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, proposed changes to the hazing code that would clarify criteria for hazing and eliminate automatic legal immunity for students who report hazing in which they have participated.

“Under the current law, there are provisions that anyone who comes and reports to the dean of students, they get automatic immunity from all civil and criminal prosecutions,” said Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, who testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearing. “And that has raised questions about someone who might have been the bad actor who raced over to the dean of students’ office before law enforcement

Weinheimer said he was skeptical of the bill’s effects.

“If it’ll have any effect, it’ll make sure that people don’t come and tell the IFC or the University what’s going on,” Weinheimer said.

Dean of Students Soncia Regins-Lilly said she has noticed an increase in hazing reports since she began working at UT three years ago.

“During the fall semester, we may have received more than six or so complaints filed,” Lilly said. “In previous years, we could go a semester with zero to one.”

But the increase in reports has not deterred the practice.

In 2007, 10 organizations were cited for hazing, and 2009’s hazing memorandum cited an additional 12 organizations for violating increasingly stringent policies.

Since 2005, two UT students have died after binge drinking during pledging activities.

Lilly said traditional Greek organizations no longer hold a monopoly on hazing.

“One of the myths of hazing is that it is a practice or a social phenomenon only for Greek organizations, and it’s not the case,” Lilly said. “There are non-Greek organizations that also participate.”

Of the new organizations cited in 2009’s hazing memorandum, five are spirit organizations, two are multicultural Greek organizations and one, Phi Delta Chi, is a professional fraternity for aspiring pharmacists.

Lilly said that in general, hazing continues to restrict itself to traditional techniques, including humiliation, calisthenics and forced drinking, but that organizations have developed new techniques, including forced drinking of large amounts of water and cattle prodding.

Leo Barnes, UT’s vice president for legal affairs, said preventing students from getting away with hazing is an important step toward deterring the practice.

Weinheimer said he didn’t think the bill’s prescriptions would help curb the practice.

“The only loophole that would be closing would be the one that makes it possible to tell [the dean of students or the IFC] about hazing,” Weinheimer said. “I don’t think it’s a loophole they want to close if they want to reduce hazing.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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