On campuses throughout Ohio and across the country, “back to school” this fall promises to be as fraught as it ever has been, and with good reason.
Keeping students safe from exposure to coronavirus will be a big focus. The virus is, after all, what closed campuses prematurely in the spring and denied most graduates the traditional pomp around receiving their long-anticipated diplomas and certificates.
Eradicating racism also must be an ongoing top priority. The horrifying awareness raised by the May 25 death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer cannot and should not be forgotten. From afar, students are petitioning for change on their campuses.
Accordingly, the job of preparing students to accept the mantle of adult responsibilities and future leadership would not be complete without teaching them, whatever their chosen fields of study, to build a more inclusive culture that nurtures the potential of all citizens and does not discriminate on the shamefully shallow basis of skin color.
And some institutions of higher education will be involved in all that goes into welcoming a new leader — Kristina M. Johnson as the 16th president of Ohio State University and David L. Kaufman as interim president of Capital University.
There is yet another priority that colleges and universities must address, and that is the very real danger that also threatens students’ well-being and their very lives.
That is the threat of harm from hazing.
We hope that the cases still working their way through the criminal justice system in Athens will help keep the danger of hazing a top concern with Ohio University administrators and faculty — and for all college and university administrators everywhere.
The fourth of nine people charged in connection with the hazing incident that resulted in the death of Collin Wiant pleaded guilty in May. It was a painful but necessary reminder that a freshman from Dublin headed off to college full of hope and high expectations for fall semester in 2018 but was dead by Nov. 12 after collapsing in an off-campus house associated with the fraternity he was pledging, Sigma Pi.
An autopsy found that Wiant died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion after he inhaled a canister of the gas, known as a whippit. Various drug and other criminal charges were brought against fraternity members and their associates after The Dispatch published a six-part investigation, “Broken Pledge,” that detailed the hazing and death of Wiant.
Other colleges and universities in Ohio and across the country are not immune from hazing, and it is not exclusive to Greek organizations. It continues to be revealed also in the cultures of athletics and marching bands — or anywhere that individuals perceive themselves to be entitled and somehow above others who might seek inclusion.
In that way, it is wise for colleges and universities, as they focus on the coronavirus pandemic, to also crack down on cruel behaviors rooted in the cultural cancers of racism and hazing.
All deserve attention from university authorities working to keep students safe — on campus and off.
— Columbus Dispatch, June 16; Online: https://bit.ly/3e9LK2E