Ohio University President Duane Nellis signed a letter Wednesday alongside all other Ohio public university presidents urging for the passing of renewed legislation that would increase the state penalties for hazing.
The letter comes after Stone Foltz, a Bowling Green State University student, died following an alleged hazing incident that took place March 4. The campus chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was put on an interim suspension once BGSU learned of the incident, according to a tweet from the university.
Following Foltz’s death, the Inter-University Council of Ohio, or IUC, had a virtual conversation with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine about strengthening statewide hazing laws, university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said. On Wednesday, the presidents of 14 public universities in the IUC signed a letter addressed to Gov. DeWine, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman and Ohio House Speaker Robert Cupp in support of Collin’s Law.
Collin’s Law — which was passed in the Ohio House during the last legislative session — would increase the penalties for hazing from a misdemeanor to a felony charge, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said.
The law’s name is in honor of Collin Wiant, an Ohio University freshman and Sigma Pi pledge who died of asphyxiation at Sigma Pi’s unofficial annex house in November 2018.
“This has been a passion of Kathleen Wiant since the tragic loss of her son,” Blackburn said.
In addition to increasing the penalties for hazing, the version of Collin’s Law introduced Wednesday includes new requirements for universities and their Greek life organizations. Universities must keep records of all Code of Conduct violations that students and parents can view before choosing what clubs and Greek life organizations to join. Hazing education would also become a requirement if the bill passes, Blackburn said.
In the letter, IUC public university presidents commend State Sens. Kunze and Gavarone for introducing the bill with stronger language than its original version.
“This bill has teeth, which we applaud. Those who engage in the hazing of others will know that their anti-social, bullying behavior will result in a felony conviction with real prison time if they cause harm to another through hazing,” the letter reads. “This legislation will be a deterrent and should cause those who would seek to perpetrate these abhorrent activities on others to think twice before doing so and may even stop them from engaging in such aberrant behavior, altogether.”
The IUC will work with the sponsors, DeWine and families who have suffered loss because of hazing on this legislation, according to the letter.
Blackburn said he has been involved in meetings pertinent to Collin’s Law since 2019. He’s also worked with the IUC, and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, to muster support for the law.
“I'm hopeful that members of the General Assembly will put people over organizations,” Blackburn said. “University presidents are on board with this type of change. We as prosecutors need the tool to stop this. Universities need help in trying to stop this.”