Hazing definition expanded by Senate

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A Texas Senate committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would broaden the definition of hazing used in civil and criminal cases.

Senate Bill 50 authored by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would clarify that actions involving coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs, or which require breaking federal state or local laws, are acts of hazing.   

“Senate Bill 50 would clarify and reform the statute to facilitate the prosecution of hazing offenses and thereby help ensure that this state’s college campuses remain environments that promote community, citizenship and learning,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who introduced the bill.

Currently, hazing is defined as “any intentional, knowing or reckless act, occurring on or off the campus of an educational institution, by one person alone or acting with others, directed against a student” that harms a student for the purpose of being initiated into or maintaining membership of an organization, such as pledging.

But Menéndez said the language in the current law is too narrow. Zaffirini’s bill would therefore eliminate the requirement that the hazing act must “endanger the mental or physical health or safety” of
an individual.

While this bill would change the legal definition of hazing, it would not necessarily change how universities define hazing when taking disciplinary action against students.

Sara Kennedy, manager of strategic and executive communications for the Office of the Dean of Students, said reporting an incident of hazing through the University is completely separate from filing criminal charges for hazing.

“Our goal is to make our campus safe,” Kennedy said. “We’re looking at educational outcomes, not punitive or criminal outcomes.”

Menéndez said SB 50 would clarify language in the law that could currently be read in such a way that would give people who report incidents of hazing immunity even if they the played a role in the hazing.

Andel Fils-Aime, director of student conduct and academic integrity in the Office of the Dean of Students, said while UT does not have an amnesty policy for incidents of hazing, his office takes into account whether a student reports the incident when considering disciplinary action.

Mark Warren said his son Clay was killed in a 2002 automobile accident as a result of hazing when he provided testimony against the bill. Warren said he and his wife fund a risk management retreat at Texas Tech and worked to pass legislation that requires student organizations to receive risk management training, but Warren said this isn’t enough.

“This bill will strengthen the ability of Universities to regulate hazing on campus,” Warren said. “We’re still having young men and young women die unnecessarily, and so I ask you for your support of this bill.”
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who is the author of a bill that would require student organization leaders to report incidents of sexual assault, said she strongly supports this bill.

“It is time to stop this hazing in our universities,” Huffman said. “It’s wrong, it’s abusive, it’s going on, and I think it’s shameful.”

SB 50 is the refile of a bill from last session by Zaffirini that passed unanimously in the Senate but died in a House committee.