EDITORIAL: Anti-hazing law good first step, but cruelty won't end until we change culture
Hazing is not dead in Pennsylvania.
The new anti-hazing law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday will not end the practice.
Young people, unfortunately, will continue to commit stupid, even brutal actions, and call it a rite of initiation and a practice of bonding.
Well-intentioned words printed on a piece of paper and signed by a high-ranking politician won’t change that.
It is, however, a promising first step.
The new law was prompted by the death of a Penn State student after a night of drinking in a fraternity house early last year.
Wolf called the new legislation “long overdue.” He’s right about that.
Hazing is not a new problem. It’s been going on for centuries.
Local incident: In fact, there was a well-publicized hazing incident right here in York County involving the York College wrestling team in 2013. The program was suspended for 10 days while the incident was investigated.
When it was all said and done, a few members of the team were expelled from the college, several more were suspended for the semester and several others didn't return to the team when their suspensions were lifted. The team was put on probation for the remainder of the season, but the damage had already been done, giving the school a black eye.
York College, to its credit, took the situation seriously and took immediate steps to investigate it and hand out penalties.
PSU tragedy: The incident at Penn State, obviously, was much more serious.
Tim Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore engineering student died from severe head and abdominal injuries after suffering a series of falls inside the Beta Theta Pi house in February of 2017.
The new anti-hazing law is named for Piazza. The new legislation enacts stricter criminal penalties and permits courts to order confiscation of frat houses where hazing has occurred.
Parents' tireless work: The new law was passed thanks largely to the tireless work of Piazza’s parents, who have become national advocates for anti-hazing efforts. They attended the bill-signing ceremony in the state Capitol.
The law requires schools to maintain policies to combat hazing and classifies as felonies the hazing incidents that result in severe injury or death. High schools, colleges and universities are required to report hazing incidents.
That is all well and good. Hopefully the stricter penalties will cause some young people to think twice before engaging in dangerous hazing activities. Maybe the law will even prevent a future tragedy.
Still, the threat of criminal charges and potential prison time can only do so much.
Culture change needed: Hazing will not end, however, until we accept the need for a culture change.
At some point, parents must convince their children that barbaric rites of initiation are not “good-natured fun,” but rather uncivilized acts of violence and cruelty. We must all come to the realization that hazing is just not acceptable behavior — not anywhere, not anytime.
Hopefully, some good will emerge from the tragic death of Tim Piazza, and the law his death inspired. Maybe the law will at least curb the plague of hazing.
Hazing, however, will not go away completely until we can change the hearts and minds of our young people.
That will require more than just words on paper and the signature of a governor.
It will require vigilance, education and, most importantly, simple human decency.