Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh.
Correction: The original version of this article implied that faculty and staff advisers are responsible for informing student organizations about the new law. However, that is the responsibility of the institution and Student Involvement. The original version of this article also stated that the training for Greek life that starts Oct. 4 is a requirement for all members of Greek Council are required to go. However, all fraternity and sorority orientation chairs are required to go; the training is not required for all members of Greek Council, as they already attended training on Aug. 28).
A new Texas law, Senate Bill 38 which went into effect Sept. 1, broadens the scope of what acts are considered hazing and applies the law to all organizations on campus, not just fraternity and sorority life.
Senate Bill 38 is a modification of the previous hazing law, Chapter 269, Sections 17 through 19. There were three major changes that affect students involved with any organization on campus. This change expanded the definition of hazing, modified what it takes for students to gain immunity from civil and criminal liability and includes new reporting and disclosure requirements for institutions.
The definition of hazing was broadened was by Senate Bill 38 to include athletic teams, student government, cheerleading, dance teams and other organizations that could potentially practice hazing.
“Trinity’s own interpretation of the policy was this wide, but the state has made that explicit now,” said Jamie Thompson, director of Student Involvement.
In the last three years, there has been one known hazing incident. The case was against Phi Sigma Chi during their orientation in spring 2017.
“Our policy was already really strong and has been recognized nationally as a model policy (NCHERM). I think it explains hazing in a way our students can understand, and it is very clear and specific. It has been adjusted recently to be aligned with the new law,” David Tuttle, dean of students, wrote in an email.
Because the amount of groups to which the law applies has increased, this new law is important to all organization members.
“All organizations and groups on campus need to be aware. For our RSO’s we’ll include some information in our next monthly newsletter — if it’s not this month’s newsletter, it’ll be out in October, and any future trainings that we do for student organizations, we’ll make sure it’s included in there,” Thompson said.
Wills Brown, assistant director for fraternity and sorority life (FSL), is taking steps to make sure everyone is aware of this new law.
“We’re sharing training with the Greek Council executive board, the orientation chairs, alumni advisers and outside of FSL,” Brown said.
The university, specifically Student Involvement, is responsible for informing student organizations of the new law and how it applies to them.
The Greek Council executive board and organization presidents were given an in-person overview of the law at their training on Aug. 28. However, required training for fraternity and sorority orientation chairs begins Oct. 4.
According to Tuttle, the law addresses the importance of preventing hazing.
“I like the law. Hazing is insidious and can have tragic, heartbreaking results. In my experience at Trinity, most of our students wouldn’t put up with significant hazing, nor engage in it. Usually what we have seen, with a couple of exceptions, has been fairly low-level hazing. Even that can cause shame stress, and with the amount of pressure and anxiety some of our students experience, often silently, it can have a really negative impact on people. Other hazing can be extremely dangerous and physically and emotionally risky,” Tuttle wrote.
The law has also broadened the conduct that could be considered hazing.
“The removal of a requirement that the hazing ‘endangers the mental or physical health or safety of the student’ — so by removing that piece, it expands conduct that could constitute hazing. If that threshold doesn’t have to be met, then all of a sudden that becomes more broad,” Thompson said.
For students who witness hazing to receive immunity from university sanctions and liability in a civil or criminal case, they cannot have participated in the incident. Immunity can only be given to a student who acts in good faith without malice, so students who haze cannot report themselves and receive immunity. They are required to cooperate with the investigation.
“In order for a student to receive immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability, in order for that immunity to apply, the student has to report the incident to the dean of students or basically another relevant designee, and it has to be made before the institution contacts the student for investigative purposes,” Thompson said.
After three years, any reports drop off of the web page.
“We’re required to post in a prominent location on the web page a detailed report of hazing committed. The law requires that we include some information about the organization, a description of the incident and any disciplinary action. That report is maintained and has to be accurate for three years,” Thompson said.
According to Tuttle, this posting on the web page could deter student groups from committing these acts.
“I think having your group published on the web page seems like a good deterrent, but in the moment, people don’t always think about consequences. When the newness of the law wears off, I don’t think it will make a big difference. I think what has made a difference is the staff emphasis on building a culture here that doesn’t include hazing and some really positive leadership from many of our students, especially in the fraternity and sorority community,” Tuttle wrote.
Brown hopes this new law is a step towards a healthier and happier campus.
“At the end of the day, it’s about prioritizing student safety, and I think we’re certainly going to be doing that here at student involvement and across campus,” Brown said.