Maryland's fraternities, sororities respond to push for harsher hazing fines

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - If Lambda Chi had involved any type of hazing while pledging new members, Alan Ghandi, 21, would have dropped out immediately.

He knows the movies glamorize it: drinking games, public humiliation and constant partying, all in the name of hilarity and initiation.

But “proving one’s worth” to join a Greek organization by hazing has evolved into a deadly practice in many places nationwide, and the Maryland General Assembly wants to enforce a stricter punishment—$4,500 stricter.

The state Senate unanimously approved Wednesday a bill that would raise the penalty for hazing from $500 to $5,000 . The offense will remain a misdemeanor with a possible jail sentence up to six months.

According to Maryland state law, hazing is defined as an act or situation “which recklessly or intentionally subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of initiation into a student organization of a school, college or university.”

Among those student organizations, Greek life is paying close attention.

A former Salisbury University student recently revealed to the news media that he was hazed while pledging for Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) in 2012.

With other new members, or “pledges,” the student had to stand in a trash can full of ice for hours and was later forced to drink alcohol until the point of vomiting. SAE recently announced its intentions nationwide to end its pledging practice altogether.

Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) sponsors the bill. He says college and university officials across the state share his view that hazing is out of control.

“Sixty people have died nationally and there are hundreds of injuries and assaults reported,” Raskin said. “Colleges and universities are doing what they can, but a lot of this happens off campus in secret.”

He says the bill is “a sharp message” to students who have participated in hazing, whether by choice or force.

“The General Assembly is not going to wait for somebody to die before we take action. College is a place of high intellectual values, not human rights violations,” Raskin said.

The penalties for hazing have not changed since the 1980s, according to Raskin. He said that one college official who testified for the bill said $500 could easily fund a weekend keg party,

For some Greek organizations, the fine could be excessive.

Jose Barahona, 21, president of Lambda Upsilon Lambda at University of Maryland, supports the need to further hazing fines, since it’s often used to gain respect from new members and create order. But when fraternities or sororities receive fines, he says the undergraduate members mostly pay the price.

“They may be fortunate and have alumni help pay, but often times it’s the undergraduate who’s living off of a part-time salary in college,” Barahona said.

Ghandi, a senior, who is the fraternity educator for UMBC’s Lambda Chi chapter, says Greek organizations at smaller colleges and universities could struggle to pay such a high fine due to their size.

“Five thousand dollars is a lot. Maryland doesn’t have large amounts of money like southern schools do in the Greek system,” Ghandi said.

Raskin says the increased fine shouldn’t be a problem for Greek organizations if they follow the law.

“We want to set the fine at a place where students understand that we’re serious. We don’t want this to be violently risky behavior that they think they can pay their way out of,” Raskin said.

When it comes to student safety, the hazing fine isn’t something that can be determined too high or low, according to Corin Gioia Edwards, assistant director for programming and advising for the department of fraternity and sorority life at Maryland

In her opinion, the bill is the next leap to raise awareness of hazing and its dangers. As long as students get the message from authority figures and those willing to intervene in such incidents, she says the bill’s impact should be positive.

“Real change comes with educational and cultural change from national organizations themselves. I’m not sure how much students keep up to date with stuff on the state level and think of it as a threat, but I’m hopeful it’s getting more awareness,” Edwards said.

As the bill heads to the House of Delegates, Raskin has two hopes: Greek organizations will recognize their privilege to make positive social impacts as opposed to destructive ones, and that safety fears on all levels will lessen.

“I hope that none of the students on our campuses are killed, injured or traumatized by hazing,” Raskin said. “I hope that’s an anxiety we can remove from the minds of students, faculty, administrators and families. You can have an incredibly fun time in college without abusing other students.”

 

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