What to Know
- Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., wants to pass legislation that requires school to report all incidents of hazing.
- Hazing impacts more than just fraternities & sororities as marching bands, sports teams & other groups deal with issue.
- Penn State pledge Tim Piazza's parents have become vocal supporters of hazing legislation following son's death.
What can be done to stop potentially-deadly hazing at America’s colleges, how should hazing be defined and how should universities go about reporting it?
Those are some of the question the parents of Timothy Piazza – a Penn State fraternity pledge who died during an alcohol-fueled party – Philadelphia-based attorney Tom Klein and U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., tackled on the Today Show Monday morning.
"We're trying to do things that will make a difference, we are trying to do things to put an end to it," James Piazza told the Today Show's Matt Lauer.
"Young people are impressionable and I have no doubt there are people that probably don't want to do it but feel the pressure that they have to... we need to break that trend," Piazza said.
Piazza’s son, Tim, died in February after guzzling vodka and beer at a series of drinking stations at the now-closed Beta Theta Pi house at Penn State University and then falling head-first down the basement stairs.
Following the death, Meehan introduced the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act that is intended to put regulations in place that would require college campuses to report hazing incidents as part of a college’s annual crime report, building off the existing Clery Act.
"Exposure, education, accountability - this pulls everybody into the dialog," Meehan said.
Schools would also be required to educate students about what it means to haze and that they could be held accountable for subjecting fellow students to hazing.
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Rep. Marcia Fudge, D- Ohio, who joined Meehan introducing the bill, pointed out that hazing spreads beyond Greek Life on campus as recruits to athletic teams, marching bands and other organizations face initiation rituals as people look at joining groups for a variety of reasons from future endeavors to friendship.
"We're talking about excessive use of alcohol, we're talking about sex acts, which are very common in these types of things... it is rampant on college campuses and it has to stop," Fudge, who herself is a sorority member, said.
"This sends a signal, as much, to the fraternity councils and the universities to revisit the things that people have been doing to make sure they're not harmful," Meehan said.
The fear, however, is that organizations with a tradition of hazing may be driven underground by the increased spotlight on fraternities and sororities.
"There's a culture of abuse and there's a culture of recidivism that we have here and someone has to try and break it," Klein said. “Universities must own this problem.”
Universities need to ensure that if hazing is reported that it's investigated, the panel said.
"If people believe something will happen they will report it... I think that if people understand how serious this is and they can get some redress that they will report it," Fudge said.
The education about hazing starts at home before students ever show up on campus. Parents need to not only talk to their children about avoiding situations where hazing might occur, but stopping it if they say someone being hazed, Tim Piazza's mother, Evelyn, said.
"As a parent you need to have that conversation with your child to say 'it's unacceptable, under no circumstance is hazing acceptable,'" Evelyn Piazza said.
"The message to the children is if it doesn't feel right, if it doesn't look right, get out," James Piazza said.
Meehan and Fudge say it shouldn’t be on the students and their families to sort out “substantial risk” of hazing within organizations but rather the colleges to change the climate and root out bad actors.
"The university has to have policies in place that are so strict that people know that if I get caught doing this I can be expelled, I can be prosecuted," Fudge said.
There is one thing that everyone agrees can help spot hazing that falls through the cracks.
"Talk to your kids be open and honest and convince them that they can tell you anything,” James Piazza said.