Penn State leadership advocates for new Pennsylvania antihazing legislation

March 23, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of continued efforts to promote student safety and curb dangerous hazing and other related behaviors through legislative action, Penn State has collaborated with state leaders on a new state-wide bill that would update Pennsylvania’s antihazing law to include student organizations, expand penalties, and require reporting by secondary schools and institutions of higher education. The antihazing legislation, which will be known as the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, was announced today (March 23, 2018) by Jake Corman, state senator from Pennsylvania’s 34th district, with support from Jim and Evelyn Piazza.

“This pivotal legislation is needed to help hold individuals accountable for hazing that endangers students,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “We are committed to the passage of state and federal legislative efforts like this that can play a role in supporting the safety and well-being of students everywhere. I cannot imagine how difficult today must be for the Piazza family and I hope changes, like this legislation, might prevent another tragedy from occurring.”

If passed into law, this bill will establish a tiered penalty system with stricter punishments, classify new types of hazing, and require institutions to publish antihazing policies and publically report hazing violations, among other measures. In addition, the bill would provide immunity for individuals in need of medical assistance who have been hazed, as well as for those who seek help for others.

On June 2, 2017, the University announced a comprehensive set of new initiatives focused on reforming the Greek-letter community, including critical legislative initiatives. Since then, University leaders in Penn State’s Office of Government and Community Relations have been working with state government officials to drive legislation forward. Penn State supports the bill, which is intended to deter hazing through a combination of stricter penalties, increased reporting requirements to educate students and families, and by encouraging students to come forward and speak up if they or someone they know is in need of help.

“In conjunction with the aggressive safety and related measures the University has enacted over the past year, we have been working closely with Senator Jake Corman to craft this legislation to achieve our mutual goal to increase student safety and put an end to hazing and related harmful behaviors,” said Zack Moore, vice president for Government and Community Relations. “Our hope is that this bill will lay the groundwork for positive changes, and we believe that it can serve as a national model for other state legislatures who are working to address issues related to hazing across the country. We are thankful to Senator Corman for his dedication to this critical effort and we hope all involved will continue to play a part in achieving a successful outcome.”

In Pennsylvania, hazing is defined as any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a person or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization.

The elements of the new legislation include:

  • New types of hazing and stricter penalties: Under a new tiered penalty system, hazing that results in bodily injury to a minor or student remains a misdemeanor, while a new category of “aggravated hazing” — that involves hazing resulting in serious bodily injury or death — is now classified as a felony in the third degree. Summary offenses also have been introduced for hazing that does not result in injury.  
  • Organizational and institutional hazing classifications: Penalties for organizations (such as fraternities, sororities and clubs with student members) and institutions (public or private institutions that grant academic degrees) that knowingly aid or participate in hazing or “aggravated hazing” include fines or criminal penalties and, in some cases, forfeiture of assets (for organizations only).
  • Safe harbor: To encourage students to seek emergency assistance for those who have been hazed, individuals shall be immune from prosecution for hazing and underage drinking if they call 911 or law enforcement, believe they’re the first to call for help and remain with the victim until emergency personnel arrive. In addition, immunity also will be given to the person who receives the medical assistance. Student leaders especially University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) have been advocating for this provision in state law.
  • Institutional reports: Beginning with the 2018-19 academic year, institutions will be required to maintain a public report of hazing violations, including when an organization was charged with misconduct, a description of the incident, findings, and if applicable, sanctions and charges.
  • Antihazing policies: In line with the state’s current antihazing law, the bill upholds the requirement for institutions and secondary schools to adopt an antihazing policy.

In addition to the University’s advocacy efforts at the state level, Penn State leaders also have backed the federal Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act sponsored by U.S. Congressman Patrick Meehan. The REACH Act, if passed into law, would require universities nationwide to report hazing under the Clery Act and provide educational programming on the dangers of hazing.

Hazing is illegal and not acceptable behavior for any student group at Penn State. When Penn State is alerted to evidence of hazing, the University takes immediate action to investigate and impose significant sanctions, including application of the student conduct process where appropriate.

To encourage safety and accountability, Penn State recently updated its Responsible Action Protocol guidelines, which protect students who have been drinking or are under the influence of drugs and seek help for another student. Changes to the protocol now also extend protection from University conduct sanctions to the individual for whom help is sought.

Specific to Greek-letter organizations, in 2017, Penn State announced a comprehensive set of safety initiatives, including immediate revocation of University recognition for hazing that involves alcohol or physical abuse, and supporting enhanced educational measures in addition to those already in place. A Greek Chapter Score Card, updated each semester, displays critical information to educate parents and potential new members on such things as total members, cumulative GPA, alcohol and hazing violations, as well as any chapter suspensions. For more information, visit pennstateupdate.psu.edu.

Last Updated March 23, 2018