Coercing a student to consume alcohol or take drugs during initiations known as hazing, is linked to a steady stream of deaths in Texas. Legislation passed in 2019 toughened up the laws against hazing on state campuses.
This month, the House Higher Education Committee met at the Capitol to discuss if the new legislation went far enough. The answer was no.
Anti-hazing advocates said meaningful change will require police and universities to start holding students involved in hazing personally responsible for their actions, rather than just clamping down on organizations.
Last year, the Texas Legislature approved a law that added forcing a student to take liquor or drugs to the definition of hazing. It’s a crime under state law and a violation of university and college codes of conduct.
The new legislation outlawed the coerced consumption of illegal substances and any quantity of alcohol which “would lead a reasonable person to believe that the student is intoxicated.”
It gave civil and criminal immunity to anyone who reports a specific hazing incident, as long as the whistleblower was acting in good faith and was not the perpetrator.
The new law also requires schools to send hazing reports to students at least two weeks before the start of the spring and fall semesters. The report must include all disciplinary action related to the incident and convictions related to hazing. The report must be placed prominently on the school’s websites and updated within 30 days of disciplinary action or when a conviction is finalized. Universities are required to include more information than previously in their annual hazing reports including the date of an incident, when an investigation started, descriptions of the violations, and what final actions were taken.
The Texas Tribune noted the House Higher Education Committee responded to at least 10 hazing deaths at Texas universities since 2000.
If a fraternity is found guilty of hazing, it is usually banned from the campus. Committee members said this does not go far enough. Some fraternities have continued to operate in a different capacity.
The committee members heard hazing has continued on university campuses. Last semester, the University of Texas at Austin placed the fraternity Delta Upsilon on probation until May 2021 for subjecting new members to calisthenics and encouraging them to drink two handles of liquor during an off-campus retreat.
Jud Horras, president of the North American Interfraternity Conference, told lawmakers they must encourage local authorities to prosecute students for hazing and require schools to report criminal hazing to the police. He said nobody has ever been prosecuted for hazing in Texas.
Nevertheless, hazing remains widespread. Almost half of all students report being subjected to some kind of hazing. When hazing causes serious bodily injury to another it is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum county jail sentence of one year and a fine of up to $1,000.
If you or your child has been accused of hazing, you should contact an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer. Call us at (214) 720-9552.