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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.

Acacia Coronado

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.

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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