Pennsylvania Senate passes antihazing law

Jim Piazza speaks about the importance of passing the anti-hazing legislation named after his son, Timothy Piazza, outside of the Centre County Courthouse Friday, March 23 in Bellefonte. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/TNS)

The Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would make hazing in fraternities a third-degree felony in cases of serious injury or death, and could allow universities to seize offending Greek organizations’ houses. 

The law is sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader and 34th Senatorial District Rep. Jake Corman, who worked with Tim Piazza’s family to create the bill. It defines hazing as coercing an individual to participate in any illegal activity in order to join a social group, including the use of drugs and alcohol to inflict physical or emotional harm or the use of other forces such as “whipping, beating … or extreme embarrassment.”

Lawmakers named the antihazing legislation after Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State University student who died February 2017 following a hazing incident involving excessive alcohol consumption in a fraternity house. 26 members of the fraternity were eventually charged with offenses including reckless endangerment and hazing.

Theodore Simon, a lawyer for convicted student Luke Visser, said the charges against Visser were “unfounded, unwarranted, and unjustified,” and a judge dismissed several of the charges in March.

Pitt faced its own hazing scandal in February, when a dozen pledges of sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha filed a report with the Penn Hills Police Department alleging they were taken to an off-campus house in the neighborhood and hazed.

The event occurred less than a month after a student was hospitalized for drinking to excess at an off-campus Sigma Chi fraternity event. In response, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner placed all Greek organizations on modified social probation in January for the rest of the spring term.

Pitt released a proposed action plan April 2 to change Greek culture at Pitt. The proposed plan included mandatory hazing education for potential Greek pledges, and the final plan will be released before fall of 2018.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick affirmed the importance of student safety and said the university supports any measures that crack down on hazing on campus.

“The University takes a zero-tolerance stance on hazing and supports broader measures that seek to address and end hazing,” Zwick said.

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