Congress Shines Light on Hazing, Revealing a Hidden Issue on College Campuses

Julie and Gary DeVercelly Sr. have been advocating for Congress to pass legislation addressing hazing on college campuses for the past eight years. However, their efforts have been met with disappointment each time.

Their son tragically passed away in 2007 due to acute alcohol poisoning resulting from a fraternity hazing ritual at Rider University in New Jersey. After the initial period of grief, Julie and Gary Sr. made it their mission to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Now, they have reason to be hopeful.

A new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate aims to compel colleges and universities to disclose the number of hazing incidents that occur on their campuses annually. The Stop Campus Hazing Act, sponsored by Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, broadens the definition of hazing and mandates the inclusion of hazing incidents in colleges’ yearly crime reports.

In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, Klobuchar emphasized the importance of transparency, stating, “Parents and students have a right to see how much of this is going on at colleges.”

Unlike previous attempts, this legislation has attracted bipartisan support and has gained the approval of influential Greek life organizations. The recent hazing scandal at Northwestern University, which involved allegations of sexual abuse and racial discrimination, has further intensified the focus on this issue.

The proposed legislation would require colleges to publish their hazing prevention policies on their websites and disclose which organizations on campus, such as fraternities and sororities, have violated these policies.

Speaking about the Stop Campus Hazing Act, Cassidy remarked, “Students should feel safe no matter what school they choose.”

Under the existing federal law known as the Jeanne Clery Act, both private and public schools are obliged to release their annual crime statistics publicly. These reports cover various crimes, including burglary, arson, and sexual abuse. However, hazing incidents have never been included in these statistics.

Julie DeVercelly described hazing as the “missing piece to the Clery Act.” Without accurate data, it is impossible to address the problem effectively.

Although previous congressional efforts to combat hazing have failed, Cassidy, Klobuchar, and other senators made another attempt in 2021 with the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act. Unfortunately, this bill did not progress due to overlapping legislation and resistance from schools and fraternities hesitant to report incidents.

Klobuchar acknowledged the progress that has been made, saying, “It used to be kind of hush-hush. Now, we’ve actually made headway.”

Notably, the new legislation has received support from various Greek life organizations, including the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. The Clery Center, which assists colleges and universities in complying with the Clery Act, also endorses the bill.

Jessica Mertz, the executive director of the Clery Center, explained that while some hazing incidents may currently be documented in Clery reports, they are listed as other crimes. The proposed legislation would ensure that hazing incidents are specifically reported.

In the bill’s text, hazing is broadly defined as any intentional, knowing, or reckless act committed against a student, regardless of their willingness to participate. The act must be associated with an organization and pose a substantial risk of physical injury, mental harm, or degradation. The legislation also aims to implement new prevention training on college campuses.

According to hazing expert Hank Nuwer’s daily updated database, at least one hazing-related death has been reported every year between 1959 and 2021.

Gary DeVercelly Sr. expressed his disappointment with the ongoing delays in federal legislation, as more lives continue to be affected. He emphasized that no parent should have to experience the loss of a child due to such senseless and avoidable acts like hazing.

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