Pass Collin’s Law to help stop hazing

Few parents ever want to see lawmakers pass a bill named for their child, because when that happens, it typically comes after there has been a tragic end to a short life.

Once a mother and father have experienced the horrific death of a son or daughter, they surely want to think their child didn’t die in vain. It won’t ease their pain — not in the least — but knowing that something has changed to try to prevent another senseless death can provide a ray of hope.

This is why the Ohio General Assembly must finish its work on House Bill 310 and send Collin’s Law: The Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act to Gov. Mike DeWine. It will close a chapter in the nightmare lived by Kathleen and Wade Wiant of Dublin since they received the unthinkable news that their son died after collapsing in an off-campus fraternity house at Ohio University on Nov. 12, 2018.

The legislation is a much-needed effort to try to prevent injury and death from the deplorable behavior of any group or institution that preys on individuals’ desires to belong. As detailed in The Dispatch six-part digital series Broken Pledge last year, and in follow-up stories, some college fraternities, sororities, as well as university bands, sports teams or other organizations, still haze new members by requiring demeaning or dangerous tasks to demonstrate loyalty.

An Indiana university professor and author who tracks such behavior said 92 hazing-related deaths occurred in the United States since 2000. Hank Nuwer said the legislation, which the Ohio House passed on Nov. 19 and sent to the Senate, “could help save a life, but it won’t stop hazing.” Still, he believes that Collin’s Law, if enacted, would offer “an important cudgel to hold over the heads of hazers who ignore basic human decency and personal safety.”

Collin Wiant, 18, was a freshman pledge of Sigma Pi when he inhaled a canister of nitrous oxide gas, known as a whippit, and died of asphyxiation. The Broken Pledge series chronicled pressures that had been put on him by the fraternity and drug use engaged in by members. OU subsequently banned the fraternity permanently.

HB 310 would expand definitions of bullies and their victims, require school districts to investigate claims of bullying in elementary through high schools and include forced consumption of drugs and alcohol in the definition of hazing.

The bill would also raise penalties for criminal charges, elevating hazing from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree misdemeanor unless it involves drugs or alcohol, which would make it a third-degree felony, punishable by a prison term.

At the very least, the Ohio Senate should pass HB 310 and send a message to discourage behavior that demeans others, which any form of hazing certainly does, no matter how anyone tries to dress it up differently.

Even better, senators may want to listen to Collin Wiant’s parents’ pleas to strengthen the bill even more with required hazing education and transparency for colleges and universities.

The Wiants vow to continue fighting to try to save other parents from the heartache they have suffered and to obtain results that give them some solace that their son would be proud of their efforts.

Sadly, there are too many examples these days of people who demean others to deflect their own insecurities. We hope lawmakers pass HB 310 to strongly discourage such harmful acts in educational institutions.

— The Columbus Dispatch; Online: