Pitt addresses new anti-hazing policies


Kaycee Orwig | Staff Photographer

Jennifer Seng, deputy chief legal officer for the University, addresses representatives from Pitt’s Greek life regarding new hazing policies.

By Alexander Hanna, For The Pitt News

The Office of Student Conduct held an event Tuesday to discuss Pitt’s commitment to an anti-hazing environment through an update of student policy and conduct.

Fraternity and sorority members gathered in the Kurtzman Room of the William Pitt Union to learn the state’s new legal definition of hazing as well as how to determine if an activity is considered an act of hazing.

The new University policy came as a result of a state law update following the death of Penn State student Tim Piazza. Piazza died in February 2017 after drinking large amounts of alcohol and falling down a flight of stairs, where he sustained fatal brain injuries.

Under the new Pennsylvania law, passed Oct. 19, 2018, hazing is committed if a person coerces a student to break the law or to drink and endure physical or mental brutality for the purpose of admitting them into an organization. The previous version of the law did not explicitly define forced alcohol consumption as a form of hazing.

Jennifer Seng, the legal advisor to Student Affairs, told the audience she hopes to spread awareness and clarify the confusion about what exactly constitutes hazing.

“It’s important for you to be aware of and understand that in addition to violating the student code of conduct, there could also be some potential personal or criminal consequences as well if Pennsylvania law is violated,” Seng said.

Seng suggested trains of thought that allow students to assess if an action is considered hazing, including “Would I feel comfortable doing that?” and “Am I being sworn to secrecy?”

But according to Matthew Landy, the assistant conduct officer for the Office of Student Conduct, if a student is unsure about the answer to any of these questions, they only have to ask themselves one question.

“So, how do you know if it’s hazing? Well, if you have to ask, then there’s a good chance that it’s at least borderline,” Landy said. “If you have to ask yourself that, then there may be an issue.”

Further explanation was given regarding what activities constitute hazing in the perspective of the new policies implemented. Any act that has the potential to hurt an individual done to prove worth to an organization is considered hazing. These activities can include forced alcohol consumption as well as physical beatings.

After explaining what hazing is, Landy told attendees how to report hazing incidents on campus, describing the existing reporting system on the Pitt Police website.

Landy also familiarized students with the Rave Guardian app, a piece of software designed for reporting any activity related to hazing.

“You can include a tip. Say it’s not hazing, but you see something that you just want to report to the Pitt Police … you can do all those reports anonymously,” Landy said.

According to Pennsylvania law, penalties for participating in organizational hazing will result in fines no more than $5,000 for every offense of organizational hazing. Participants will also have to hand over their private property for the purpose of investigation if need be.

In order to increase accountability of student organizations, the University established a five-year institutional incidence report that will be updated biannually.

“It [includes] the following information: the name of the organization and the date the organization was charged with the violation and a general description,” Landy said.

Potential new members of Pitt fraternities and sororities will be able to evaluate their choices as a result of this institutional report, as they will have the ability to view a fraternity’s or sorority’s number of offenses and make an informed decision about the safety of a certain fraternity or sorority.

Brian Bevan, a junior mathematics major and member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, said both his fraternity and other Greek life members are ready to adopt new changes.

“We’re all 100 percent prepared to adhere to the rules that they provide through physical documentation and any events that we are attending,” Bevan said. “Anything that the University gives out we’re obviously going to respect, because when it comes to Greek life, it could be peoples’ lives at risk.”

According to Bevan, Tau Kappa Epsilon already uses multiple lines of communication including apps and weekly chapter meetings, and they’ll continue using these to bring new policy changes to their fraternity’s attention.

“We use GroupMe … that is the most effective form of communication, and everyone is in constant communication with each other, so that’s how we would adhere to new policies,” Bevan said.

While students are in communication with fellow members of their organization, Landy emphasized students should report these incidents if they hear about them.

“We give you this information in hopes that when you hear something about another student organization that you address it with them and that you address it with us,” Landy said.