Updated anti-hazing bill passes Senate committee
CHARLESTON — In 2014, a West Virginia University freshman died after drinking an entire bottle of alcohol during a fraternity hazing ritual, and in response, the university cracked down on fraternity life.
As a result, five fraternities broke away from the university last year and are now operating as organizations for WVU students not affiliated with the university.
This placed them outside the scope of West Virginia’s antihazing laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill to fix that.
Senate Bill 440 amends the anti-hazing code to include any organization whose members are students of a higher education institution.
Two senators, Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, and Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, questioned whether the change could have unintended consequences for organizations like the Freemasons that students are a part of, though the counsel for the committee did not foresee any issues.
As defined in state code, hazing is any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced consumption of food, liquor, drug or other substance, or any other forced physical activity that could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual.
It also includes any activity that would subject an individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, and forced conduct resulting in extreme embarrassment, along with the willful destruction or removal of public or private property.
According to Inside Hazing, a website by hazing expert Dr. Susan Lipkins, hazing is dramatically under-reported because oftentimes people don’t realize what they experienced was hazing.
According to a 2018 survey by YouGov, younger respondents were most likely to say they experienced hazing and 35 percent of respondents said hazing was a rite of passage.
WVU has launched a hazing prevention program in response to the situation on its campus. Last year was the first Hazing Prevention Week, which included discussions on what hazing is and how to intervene if you see it happening.
The Senate bill was passed unanimously and will be sent to the Senate floor for a full vote.