Test for Colleges This Fall: Does Criminalizing Hazing Tame Fraternities?
State laws aim to prevent hazing-related accidents and deaths; ‘there is no such thing as good-natured hazing,’ says FSU president
Florida implemented what is known as Andrew’s Law, after Florida State University student Andrew Coffey, who died after a hazing incident at a Pi Kappa Phi party.
Oct. 12, 2019 5:30 am ET
Pledging season for college fraternities is in high gear across the U.S., and this year they face stricter safety protocols and more state laws that criminalize hazing.
States including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York have strengthened laws in an effort to prevent hazing-related accidents and deaths since early 2018.
Cracking down on hazing is different than curtailing underage drinking because hazing involves various forms of harassment, from the forced consumption of alcohol to the physical abuse of college students trying to join a selective organization like a fraternity or sorority.
This month, Florida implemented what is known as Andrew’s Law, which gives legal immunity to anyone who renders aid to someone whose safety is endangered from hazing, even if they too were involved. Before this clause, there was no clear protection for students who called 911. The state also expanded the definition of hazing victims to include members and former members of a fraternity.
The law is named after Andrew Coffey, a student from Florida State University who died of alcohol poisoning after a Pi Kappa Phi party on “Big Brother Night” in 2017. He was found without a pulse the next morning, and fraternity brothers texted one another for 11 minutes before seeking help.
Five students pleaded guilty for misdemeanor hazing in the Coffey case, and a civil lawsuit settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
The family of Louisiana State University student Maxwell Gruver, who died after a hazing ritual in 2017. PHOTO: MELINDA DESLATTE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FSU President John Thrasher, a former state legislator, supported the bill. He said the university has no tolerance for hazing and is actively working with students to communicate concerns and ensure university values are reflected in campus activities.
“There is no such thing as good-natured hazing,” Mr. Thrasher said. “When you have a death like you have here, you have to take a step back and reflect on what are the values of this university.”
Victor Tran, assistant executive director of communications for Pi Kappa Phi, said hazing has no place in its organization and the chapter was immediately closed.
“Pi Kappa Phi supports state-based anti-hazing legislation that delivers greater transparency through stronger hazing reporting requirements, strengthens criminal penalties and encourages prosecution, calls for university accountability for bad actors, provides amnesty to encourage people to call for help, and calls for student education,” Mr. Tran said.
Hank Nuwer, a professor of journalism at Franklin College in Indiana, who has compiled data on hazing deaths for more than 30 years, said laws are doing little to curb the problem. Since 1975, he has researched more than 200 hazing and hazing-related deaths and written two books on the subject. He said fraternities have existed for centuries, but today there is cruelty never seen before.
“We are seeing so much more deaths in this alcohol era than ever,” Mr. Nuwer said.