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College students convicted of hazing would lose financial aid under new bill

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College students convicted of hazing would lose financial aid under new bill

Feb 20, 2024 | 6:50 am ET
By Dana DiFilippo
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College students convicted of hazing would lose financial aid under new bill
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A state lawmaker wants to hold college students financially accountable for hazing by yanking their state financial aid. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

College students in New Jersey would lose state financial aid if they get convicted of hazing under a bill a Democratic lawmaker introduced last week.

Assemblywoman Carol Murphy’s proposal would expand on anti-hazing protections lawmakers adopted in 2021 after the 2017 death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Readington resident and Penn State student whose fraternity hazing led to his fatal fall down a staircase.

That law required all middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions to adopt anti-hazing policies and penalties. It also upgraded criminal penalties for hazing, making it a third-degree crime if a victim suffered serious injury or died and a fourth-degree crime if the victim suffered any injury at all.

The law was hailed nationally because it has an “amnesty clause” prohibiting the prosecution of someone who alerts authorities that a hazing victim needs medical assistance and a “consent clause,” meaning those involved can still be held responsible even if the victim willingly participated.

Murphy’s bill comes four months after federal lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation that would require colleges to report hazing incidents annually, educate students about the practice, and alert students and parents to campus student groups with a history of hazing.

Hazing deaths aren’t officially tracked in the United States by any government entity, but an anti-hazing advocate who maintains an unofficial database found at least one person a year died from hazing between 1959 and 2021. He found no deaths publicly attributed to hazing in 2022 or 2023.

College students convicted of hazing would lose financial aid under new bill
Armand Runte was 19 when he fell down fraternity stairs and fractured his skull after drinking excessively as part of pledge-hazing activities, according to his 2022 lawsuit. (Lawsuit screengrab)

In March 2022, a Rutgers University freshman fell down stairs and fractured his skull after drinking “life-threatening amounts of alcohol” as part of pledge-hazing activities at Theta Chi fraternity, according to a lawsuit he filed seven months later against Rutgers, the fraternity, and various other named defendants. That case remains in litigation.

University officials determined the fraternity violated Rutgers’ anti-hazing policies and state law and ordered the chapter removed, according to a Rutgers’ hazing report.

Such reporting was required under the 2021 law, which directed all public and private colleges, starting in January 2022, to publicly post data on their websites twice a year on hazing incidents, including data dating back five years, if available. It did not mandate central tracking.

The reporting can be tough to find on some college websites and the level of detail reported varies between institutions.

The reports show most hazing incidents statewide involved fraternities and sororities. Common incidents included underage students taken for hospital care because of forced excessive drinking, sleep deprivation, mandated house-cleaning, physical beating, bullying, and verbal abuse, while less common reports involved “paddling,” forced miles-long marches in freezing weather, and fraternity members directed to disrupt class by doing “a robot dance” and “Dragon Ball Z Saiyan scream.”

This is the fourth time Murphy, who represents Burlington County, has introduced the bill. It passed unanimously in the Senate in 2019 but stalled in the Assembly, and it failed to advance in the two most recent legislative sessions.

Murphy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Her legislation notes that high-profile hazing incidents, including the deaths of Piazza and students at Louisiana State University and Florida State University, demonstrate that additional deterrents are needed to reduce hazing.