A bill introduced to the U.S. Senate on March 15 would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require institutes of higher education to report hazing incidents in their annual crime report and establish campus-wide hazing education programs.
The bill, titled the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing, or REACH, Act, is primarily sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN. Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-PA, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH. After being read in session in March, the bill was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The amendment formally defines hazing as an “intentional, knowing, or reckless act committed by a student, or a former student, of an institution of higher education” against another student as a form of initiation, affiliation or maintenance of membership to an organization affiliated with said institution of higher learning.
This definition is applicable even if the student willingly participates and contributes to or causes “a substantial risk of physical injury, mental harm, or degradation.”
Kathleen Wiant offered her support of the new bill after the her son Collin Wiant died due to hazing at Ohio University in 2018.
“We need to change the culture of hazing and how it’s viewed,” Kathleen Wiant said in a news release. “Changing this culture begins with changing the laws because no family should have to experience the most painful type of heartbreak imaginable due to hazing. Parents and students deserve and need access to the necessary information to keep students safe.”
The REACH Act also requires the establishment of a comprehensive, research-based hazing education program for students, staff, faculty and others involved on campus. The program should include information on hazing awareness and prevention, the institution’s policies on hazing and how to report an incident. In addition, programs should incorporate “skill building for bystander intervention, information about ethical leadership, and the promotion of strategies for building group cohesion without hazing,” according to the bill.
OU currently requires students seeking to join a sorority or fraternity to participate in a six-module series, which includes information on bystander intervention, hazing education and additional health and safety education, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said. Any organization under disciplinary review in the past seven years is listed on the university’s website.
“The University is working towards creating ‘score-card’ data publication on all social fraternities and sororities regarding disciplinary history and other information on the organizations to be publicly available,” Leatherwood said in an email.
This is not the first hazing bill to be introduced on a federal level. In 2019, the END ALL Hazing Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill would require colleges and universities to report incidents of hazing that involved injury or risk of injury within 72 hours. However, the bill was never passed.
Currently, 44 states have anti-hazing legislation. According to a previous Post report, failure to report hazing in Ohio would result in a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. Since the death of Collin Wiant, there has been a push to make hazing a felony in Ohio, resulting in proposed legislation commonly referred to as “Collin’s Law.”
“We have to do more to stop these student deaths — parents shouldn’t have to worry for their child’s safety because they join a fraternity or a sorority,” Brown said in a news release.
Nicholas Hock, a freshman studying finance and prospective Pi Kappa Alpha member, is not sure that the REACH Act goes far enough to address hazing.
“You can’t always trust people reporting on stuff because they’re too scared or they just don’t want to,” Hock said.