Upon introducing framework of some future legislation, Rep. Frederica Wilson said in a press release:
“Hazing is not a university problem. It is not a Greek problem. It is not a student problem. It is an American problem.”
I’m sorry, but this former fraternity president begs to differ. Should hazing be a federal issue? No.
I oppose most forms of hazing. Anything that requires you to take off your clothes or cause physical harm to a person is something that has no place in Greek or campus life.
Where do you draw the line at legitimate forms of induction and ritual, and where and when does that become hazing?
Sadly, there has been a history of violence and humiliation in some college fraternal organizations. But this is not an “American problem,” it’s something that is best handled on a case by case basis by the college or university system, the fraternity (both the chapter and the national entity,) local law enforcement, and the courts — based on the facts and the law.
According to Rep. Wilson — who by the way used an image of what appears to be a national cemetery to push for her bill, which I find distasteful — the framework she is proposing would ensure that:
Students convicted of a hazing crime under state law or who are officially sanctioned by an institution of higher education would lose their eligibility for student financial aid.
The bill would establish an “Advisory Committee on Hazing Prevention and Elimination,” to be housed within the U.S. Department of Justice.
Additionally, states that do not currently have, or fail to enact, a felony criminal hazing statute will have their federal transportation funds restricted.
Now, not all hazing comes from so-called traditional greek organizations. I recall a hazing incident at my alma mater that took place in a historically black sorority (which are not always limited to a certain college campus) for which Rep. Wilson was the South Atlantic Regional Director. And in the case of Rep. Wilson’s proposed framework, it was because a member of a well known college band died as a result of hazing.
Here are some of my concerns from a prima facie look at her “framework:”
Her first proposal is to deny federal aid based on state criminal law. I don’t know whether there’s much precedent to this, but generally it’s not something I would support as sound policy. The second part of this would deny that aid if their college sanctions them. Let’s say some administrator has a really permissive definition of hazing… like making people wear certain clothes on certain days. What would the appeals process be? Who would adjudicate it? How much would this cost taxpayers? Would it actually save money? Save lives?
More importantly, should college administrators be given the same powers to deny people access to Pell Grants as federal judges? How is that due process?
The second part of it would be to set up an advisory committee in the Department of Justice. Why? What would it do? Meddle more? The last time I checked, we definitely had a shortage of DOJ staffers working on potential violations of local or state criminal law. I guess Rep. Wilson thinks we need more.
Lastly, Rep. Wilson dangles the big federal hazing paddle behind the states. If they don’t pass a felony criminal hazing law up to her standards, she proposes taking away their highway funding. This might not even be a real threat, since it is entirely plausible that a court would strike down that penalty clause as “unduly coercive” since it is unrelated to penalty (in this case, failure to pass felony criminal hazing laws.) In the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld President Obama’s healthcare law, the court also found that Congress had unduly coerced states in its use of spending clause authority.
This law is unnecessary. Nobody should lose their child to hazing, but dead children often result in people proposing bad laws. This doesn’t go just for Rep. Wilson, it goes for colleges, fraternities, social groups, states, and even individuals.
This law won’t bring back their lost loved ones. It’ll just grow government, waste money, and probably make a negligible difference relative to its downsides and unintended consequences.
Instead of proposing a new federal law, I think that those concerned can work on more constructive ways to make a difference. This is not one of them.