Editorial: Deadly, shameful college tradition of hazing must end

This is a recent editorial from the Columbus Dispatch.

A seemingly sacred tradition thrives on college campuses even amid the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. It feeds on humiliation, degradation, endangerment and abuse, and sometimes it kills.

And it must stop.

When it comes to hazing, the details may differ but the deaths keep on coming. Ohio universities are no exception, but there is an opportunity for lawmakers to change that.

Stone Foltz, a 20-year-old described as a beloved son, brother and grandson, died March 7 after the family’s attorney, Sean Alto, said Foltz was given “a copious amount of alcohol” at an off-campus event organized by the fraternity to which he was pledging, the Bowling Green State University chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha International.

State Senators Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) reintroduced Collin’s Law — which would increase legal penalties for hazing — three days after the death of Foltz, a 2019 Buckeye Valley High School graduate.

You remember Collin. You might even know a young man just like him. Perhaps you were him back when you were in school.

Like so many students, Collin Wiant sought brotherhood and belonging, and he bent over backward to get it.

As part of pledging to Sigma Pi fraternity at Ohio University, he did laundry for other frat members and even skipped classes after being called in the middle of the night to clean bars and restaurants that employed his so-called brothers.

Based on reporting by this newspaper, things went far beyond putting in elbow grease.

Frat brothers beat Wiant so hard with belts during an alcohol- and drug-filled trip to Tennessee, that he was left with welts and bruises.

The 18-year-old freshman from Dublin cried to his brother about the pledging experiences, hoping to make it to full membership in December.

That didn’t happen.

Wiant collapsed and died of asphyxiation after inhaling a canister of nitrous oxide gas, known as a whippit, at an unofficial, off-campus fraternity house in Athens in November 2018.

Nine people – all but one an OU student or former student – have been indicted in Athens County. Several have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from misdemeanor negligent homicide, felony permitting drug use and hazing, a fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio punishable by up to 30 days in jail and an up to a $250 fine.

As it stands, hazing carries the same penalty as public indecency.

Yes, a streaker could face the same time in jail as someone who blindfolds a drunk pledge and leaves him in the woods to find his way home.

Collin’s Law offers needed changes.

Efforts are underway to combat hazing.

U.S. Representative Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) was part of the bipartisan group last week that re-introduced the End All Hazing Act as part of an effort to promote transparency and accountability.

If approved, colleges and universities would have to post on their websites instances of hazing that took place on campus or within a student organization.

The reintroduced Collin’s Law would expand the definition of hazing to include the forced consumption of drugs and alcohol, and increase the criminal penalties for hazing to a second-degree misdemeanor for general hazing and a third-degree felony for any hazing involving drugs or alcohol.

It also calls for transparency at the university level and education for college students about hazing. All of those changes are clearly needed.

… The original Collin’s law included regulations aimed at hazing on the college level and bullying in grades K-12. It was pushed by Kathleen and Wade Wiant, Collin’s parents, and would have been the most comprehensive hazing law in the nation.

That bill was approved in the Ohio House in November, but went nowhere in the state Senate education committee, leaving the Wiants “heartbroken.”

Lawmakers attributed the original bill’s death to time constraints and needing more answers to questions about the bullying components of the bill.

Months have passed. A new investigation into a suspected hazing death of another central Ohio native is underway.

It is time for legislators to act against hazing. There is no compelling reason not to do so.

The new version of Collin’s Law does not include the language about bullying that apparently complicated the issue last year.

A tougher hazing law will not completely end the brutal tradition, but it would be a step in the right direction to stop history from repeating itself all too many times. …

— Columbus Dispatch, March 18