Proposed New Jersey Legislation Targets College Students Involved in Hazing

New Jersey college students risk losing state financial aid if they are found guilty of hazing under a bill introduced by a Democratic legislator last week.

Assemblywoman Carol Murphy’s proposal seeks to build upon the anti-hazing safeguards implemented by lawmakers back in 2021 following the tragic passing of 19-year-old Readington resident and Penn State student Timothy Piazza, whose fraternity hazing resulted in a fatal fall down a staircase.

The existing law mandated all middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions to adopt anti-hazing measures and penalties. It also heightened the criminal repercussions for hazing, categorizing it as a third-degree offense if a victim suffered serious harm or death and a fourth-degree offense if any injury was inflicted.

This legislation gained national acclaim due to its inclusion of an “amnesty clause” that shields individuals who alert authorities to a hazing incident requiring medical aid and a “consent clause” holding those involved accountable even if the victim participated willingly.

Murphy’s bill comes on the heels of a bipartisan federal bill introduced four months earlier mandating colleges to annually report hazing incidents, educate students about the issue, and notify students and parents about campus groups with histories of hazing.

Though hazing-related fatalities are not formally tracked by the U.S. government, a database maintained by an anti-hazing advocate revealed an annual average of one hazing-related death between 1959 and 2021. No deaths attributed to hazing were reported publically in 2022 or 2023.

Recently, in a separate incident, a Rutgers University freshman sustained serious injuries after consuming excessive alcohol during pledge-hazing rituals at Theta Chi fraternity, leading to legal action against Rutgers and the fraternity. The case is currently under litigation.

Rutgers’ investigation confirmed the fraternity’s violation of anti-hazing policies and state laws, resulting in the chapter’s expulsion.

The 2021 law necessitated colleges to publicly share data on hazing incidents twice yearly, dating back five years, but did not mandate centralized tracking.

Despite this requirement, accessibility to this data on college websites can vary, with differing levels of detail among institutions.

Reports from colleges highlighted fraternity and sorority organizations in most hazing incidents statewide. Common incidents included alcohol intoxication, sleep deprivation, coerced cleaning, physical abuse, and verbal harassment. Infrequent incidents involved rituals like paddling, long marches in extreme weather, and disruptive behavior in class.

Assemblywoman Murphy, representing Burlington County, has introduced this bill for the fourth time, with previous versions stalling or failing to advance in legislative sessions.

Attempts to reach Murphy for comment went unanswered.

The legislation underscores the necessity for additional deterrents to combat hazing, citing high-profile incidents like those at Louisiana State University and Florida State University, where students tragically lost their lives.

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