Revised anti-hazing law receives acceptance, criticism from Greek Life

Court Street (pictured above) features most of Geneseo’s 28 fraternities and sororities. New legislation passed by the state attempts to address issues of hazing by placing criminal penalties on students caught using physical force in the process of a hazing ritual (UdeshI Seneviratne/photo editor). 

New York State passed new legislation on Aug. 13 directed towards hazing. The law specifically targets physical hazing, such as forced fighting or exercise.       

New York State observes a so-called zero-tolerance attitude for hazing, according to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

“These hazing rituals are dangerous and reckless with potentially fatal consequences,” Cuomo said in a press release. “I’m proud to sign this legislation to protect college students across this great state.” 

The law now states that any student who has participated in a hazing ritual that is physical in nature and “that creates a substantial risk of physical injury” could be punished with up to a year in jail, according to the press release. 

Geneseo has 28 Greek life organizations on-campus, along with many different clubs and sports teams, according to Geneseo’s website. This causes the new legislation to impact the campus in a variety of ways.

Students question whether this legislation will actually protect students from hazing due to a list of problems ranging from specificity to lack of real solvency on the issue.

Pi Kappa Phi rush chair senior Remington Spoor said he’s never experienced hazing but has heard stories of such things happening on-campus. While the law might cause change on a bureaucratic level, it is not clear if it will affect the everyday life of a college student in Greek Life, according to Spoor. 

People have mixed opinions regarding the specificity of the legislation, but the specificity may help enforce the law, Spoor said. 

“Specificity always helps the law,” Spoor said. “It helps those who enforce the law know what they’re going to do, what they should do, what constitutes this, what doesn’t constitute this. I think that’s really helpful.” 

 Students, like Sigma Alpha Mu social chair senior Brian Herman, pointed out various issues with the bill, such as a lack of oversight and long-term solvency and a lack of concern for mental or emotional hazing. 

“As a participant in Greek life, I can say there is an uncomfortable amount of hazing at universities in the United States and New York State,” Herman said.

Despite misconceptions that hazing is only physical, there needs to be more focus on mental and emotional hazing and legislation to protect students against the effecting mental and emotional distress, according to Interim Coordinator for Fraternal Life and Off-Campus Services Bethany Hettinger.

The practice is not limited to Greek life; it is an issue across sports and clubs, according to Hettinger. While Greek life is one piece, it is not the whole issue, Hettinger said. It is not specific to Geneseo, but “a larger broader issue” that can affect anyone, Hettinger said.

Students agreed with this sentiment, pointing to institutions beyond Greek Life that have patterns of hazing. 

“If we’re really going to talk about hazing we should think about the military,” Spoor said.  “Hazing is a big problem in the military and I think vilifying these [Greek Life institutions] that obviously have their sins, I don’t always think that’s helpful.” 

Geneseo has educational programs set up to help students protect themselves when it comes to hazing of any kind, according to Hettinger. These programs allow students to be able to report unhealthy situations occurring on-campus.

“Each semester when a new group of students joins fraternities and sororities, we have them sit through a mandatory hazing and education awareness workshop,” Hettinger said. “[Students] can advocate for themselves and their peers.”