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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

Hazy Hazing Rules

You have likely heard about recent hazing incidents that have gotten out of hand at colleges and universities across the United States, causing injury or even the death of fraternity or sorority pledges, college athletes, or members of other school or social organizations.

For example, the parents of a Northern Illinois University fraternity pledge filed a wrongful death lawsuit when their son died due to forced drinking during a hazing event. The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that the parents could directly sue not only the local fraternity chapter but also the individual students who participated in the hazing, which was called a “historic” decision.

As dangerous hazing incidents regularly make headlines, focus is not only on liability but also how schools are going to keep their students safe. As part of that effort, many schools started enforcing strict anti-hazing policies as part of their college codes of conduct. While it is important to ban hazing activities that put a student’s health or safety at risk, many schools have taken a zero tolerance approach, which is leading to punitive and serious discipline of students for seemingly harmless or normal activities and is inconsistent with a school’s educational mission.

Rules Against Harmless Behavior

Students need protection from dangerous forms of hazing, including forced drinking; physical assaults; psychological humiliation; deprivation of food, water, or sleep; and similar activities that can result in serious harm. However, some schools have classified harmless—and even ambiguous—activities as forbidden “hazing.”

For instance, consider the following activities that are against Ramapo College’s anti-hazing policy:

  • “Quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips or any other such activities carried on outside or inside of the campus”
  • “Publically wearing apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste (uniforms, head apparel, boots/shoes, etc.)”
  • “Engaging in public stunts and buffoonery”

Scavenger hunts or road trips during free time are fun for college students and students may conduct them without any threat of harm or interference with their studies. In addition, determining whether apparel is “conspicuous” or in poor taste is subjective. Students could deem hats or shoes in fine taste and could suddenly face hazing accusations if administrators disagreed. Similarly, deciding when something qualifies as “buffoonery” is also subjective.

Ambiguous anti-hazing rules or those that punish harmless behaviors are taking the matter too far and are putting the futures of students at risk.

Possible Consequences of Hazing Accusations

Being accused of hazing can not only get students suspended or expelled from a student organization but can result in suspension or expulsion from the college or university for violating the code of conduct. Any type of disciplinary record at a school can hurt a student’s future, and anyone accused of hazing or misconduct should contact a law firm with experience defending college students immediately.

In addition, one hazing case out of Florida resulted in nine students facing criminal charges, after a fraternity pledge died of alcohol poisoning at Florida State University. Florida prosecutors recently announced that they have issued criminal charges of hazing causing serious bodily injury or death against nine members of the fraternity. These felony charges can mean five years of probation or five years of imprisonment. the school suspended all Greek organizations indefinitely.

While colleges should protect students against dangerous hazing, schools are quickly escalating the punishment of all types of hazing in the United States. Students accused of any type of hazing should seek help from an experienced legal professional who can protect their rights and limit the effects on their futures.

Consult a College Code Defense Attorney as Soon as Possible

Our lawyers at Duffy Law have unique backgrounds that allow us to skillfully represent student during college disciplinary proceedings as well as in criminal court when needed. If you want to discuss your situation, please call (203) 946-2000 or contact us online today.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.