College fraternity and sororities initiation rites have been popularized in movies such as “Animal House” and on television. However, initiation activities which endanger a student’s physical or mental health are not considered as campus antics and constitutes the criminal offense of hazing. Like other college campus crimes, this offense has serious and long-term legal and educational consequences.
Massachusetts enacted its anti-hazing laws in 1985. Its reach is not limited to initiation into fraternities and sororities and may cover other activities, such as social clubs and team sports. The legal definition of hazing is any conduct or method of initiation into a student organization which intentionally or recklessly endangers any student or person’s mental or physical health. It can take place on private, public property, on campus or off-campus.
The conduct includes whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to weather, any brutal treatment, forced physical activity or making the victim consume food, liquor, beverages or other substances. It also includes conduct that subjects the victim to extreme mental stress, such as extended isolation or withdrawal of sleep or rest.
There are several signs of hazing. First, a particular group is selected for the ritual. Next, the hazing ends up in behavior that a person would not share with parents, coaches, faculty or athletic directors. Or, the activity is humiliating, demeaning, exhausting, is physically or emotionally uncomfortable or involves harassment or endangerment.
Criminal penalties include imprisonment up to one year, a fine up to $3,000 or both. In more serious cases, it can also result in other criminal charges, such as assault or manslaughter. Colleges may also impose a wide range of sanctions that include expulsion or removal from an athletic team or club. Fraternities, sororities or clubs may be suspended or lose their charters.
Police and campus officials may investigate alleged hazing violations. Colleges may also require teams and organizations to take steps to prevent this activity.
Hazing allegations often involve complicated facts and numerous participants, but should always be taken seriously. Accused students could face expulsion, criminal penalties and have a record that follows them in their career. Students accused of hazing or who is involved in an investigation will want to know their rights.