“Collin’s Law” and the Ohio Legislative Fight to Eradicate Hazing

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Jehanzeb Khan, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Trigger Warning: The following blog discusses college hazing, and heavy alcohol and drug use.

I. Introduction

On Wednesday, March 10th, 2021, Ohio State Senators Stephanie Kunze and Theresa Gavarone introduce a bill in the Ohio Senate to increase legal penalties for hazing and implement education for college students about hazing.[1] Senate Bill 126, also known as “Collin’s Law,” is named after Collin Wiant, an 18-year-old student at Ohio University who died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide injection connected to a hazing incident in November of 2018.[2]

This blog will discuss the purpose behind Collin’s Law and the penalty it seeks to impose. Next, this blog will discuss what other states have done in enacting similar laws to combat hazing at college campuses. Finally, this blog will delve into how successful Collin’s Law might be in reducing instances of hazing on college campuses.

II. Background

Part A of this section will overview Collin’s Law and what it seeks to impose in the state of Ohio. Part B of this section will discuss recent hazing instances in the United States and why they occurred. Lastly, Part C of this section will discuss what anti-hazing legislation has looked like in other states.

A. Collin’s Law

Collin’s Law is a reintroduction of an Ohio House bill in 2019 that did not make it through a Senate Committee on the heels of Stone Foltz’s death.[3] Foltz was a 20-year-old student at Bowling Green State University who died after an alleged hazing incident on March 7th, 2021.[4] Collin’s Law would expand the definition of hazing in Ohio to include the forced consumption of drugs and alcohol.[5]

Collin’s Law is designed to specifically amend § 2903.31 of the Ohio Revised Code titled “Hazing.”[6] The bill would increase the criminal penalties for hazing from a fourth-degree misdemeanor, comparable to not paying a parking ticket, to a second-degree misdemeanor for “general hazing,” and a third-degree felony for any hazing involving drugs or alcohol.[7] The bill also would establish “aggravated hazing” as a second-degree felony.[8] A charge under Collin’s Law could fall on all those accused of causing death, physical harm, or “substantial risk,” or physical harm to a victim while “acting with reckless indifference to the health and safety of the victim and causing or forcing consumption of alcohol or drug abuse.”[9]

Collin’s Law will also enact O.R.C. § 2903.311.[10] This new provision imposes a fourth-degree misdemeanor on any member of an institution of higher education or anyone acting in an official or professional capacity who fails to report any hazing incident to law enforcement.[11] “Collin’s Law” also enacts O.R.C. § 3333.0417, which requires the Ohio Chancellor of Higher Education to develop a statewide education plan for preventing hazing at institutions of higher education.[12] Lastly, “Collin’s Law” will enact O.R.C. § 3345.19.[13] This provision requires each institution of higher education in Ohio to develop an anti-hazing policy.

B. Hazing Across America

Dr. Elizabeth J. Allan and Dr. Mary Madden of the University of Maine presented an overview of hazing in the United States in 2008.[14] Through surveying over 11,000 college students, Dr. Allan and Dr. Madden discovered that more than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.[15] Additionally, more than 70% of students surveyed on either a varsity athletic team or a social fraternity or sorority experienced hazing.[16] The survey found that humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts are common hazing practices; excessive alcohol consumption is the most common hazing practice without question.[17]

Despite the research presented by Dr. Allan and Dr. Madden being over ten years old, deaths from hazing incidents continue to occur. Since the study, at least 33 deaths have resulted from some form of hazing incident, averaging about two and a half hazing deaths per year.[18] Of those, 22 deaths were the result of alcohol intoxication.[19]

C. Other Anti-Hazing Legislation

Across the United States, 44 of the 50 states have some form of anti-hazing legislation.[20] However, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Wyoming do not have any anti-hazing legislation.[21] Even amongst the states that do have hazing legislation, the breadth of the laws varies dramatically.[22] For instance, Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Tennessee do not impose any criminal penalty.[23]

Those states only have legislation requiring higher education institutions to impose some form of system to prevent hazing.[24] The remaining states impose some form of criminal penalty for those who are either perpetrators of hazing or who fail to report hazing instances when in a position of power.[25] However, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin allow the state to charge the a perpetrator of hazing with a felony in certain severe instances.[26]

III. Discussion

Despite some states taking measures to increase penalties for perpetrators of hazing or increasing education for anti-hazing, deaths from incidents of hazing continue to occur. Notwithstanding fatalities, and as shown by Dr. Allan and Dr. Madden, many individuals, primarily those involved with social groups at higher education institutions, experience and endure instances of hazing. HazingPrevention.org has reported that 71% of hazed people suffer from negative consequences, including mental instability, sleep deprivation, loss of sense of control, and post-traumatic stress syndrome, to only name a few.[27] So while death is indeed the worst possible outcome, there are far more victims of hazing that still endure severe and life-altering consequences.

Ultimately, “Collin’s Law” is a reactive measure to handle instances of hazing after they have occurred as opposed to something proactive to try and impede hazing from happening in the first place. Although “Collin’s Law” could impede instances of hazing in Ohio by providing a chilling factor, addressing hazing goes beyond just placing punitive measures on perpetrators and non-reporters. Unfortunately, due to how pervasive hazing is in social groups, the problem of hazing is one of culture and is not an easy fix. Thus, the long-term “fix” of hazing goes beyond state laws imposing punishment but goes to higher education institutions, and ultimately social groups at those institutions imposing new meaning of what college experiences and bonding look like, beyond heavy substance use and pressured social activities.

IV. Conclusion

“Collin’s Law,” if it passes, is a step in combating hazing in the state of Ohio. Ultimately, imposing strong penalties is part of the battle, and fortunately, “Collin’s Law” looks to also put pressure on colleges and universities in Ohio to impose their own policies. While helpful, to truly eradicate hazing, leaders of social groups at these institutions must take combating hazing seriously themselves. While it is great that Ohio legislative members care about combating hazing, and hopefully administrative members care too, college students themselves need to care as well. How many other students need to die from hazing before they do?

[1] Sheridan Hendrix, Tougher anti-hazing Collin’s Law reintroduced in Ohio Senate Wednesday, The Columbus Dispatch (Mar. 10, 2021, 4:20 PM), https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/2021/03/10/collins-law-reintroduced-ohio-senate-wednesday/6928136002/.

[2] Sheridan Hendrix, Former OU Sigma Pi members plead guilty to multiple charges in death of pledge Collin Wiant, The Columbus Dispatch (Aug. 26, 2020, 4:34 PM), https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2020/08/26/former-ou-sigma-pi-members-plead-guilty-multiple-charges-death-pledge-collin-wiant/5634660002/.

[3] Quinlan Bentley, et al., Delaware student Stone Foltz dies after alleged BGSU hazing incident left him on life support, The Columbus Dispatch (Mar. 16, 2021, 2:19 PM), https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/local/2021/03/06/delaware-county-grad-life-support-after-bowling-green-hazing-incident/4613344001/.

[4] Id.

[5] Hendrix, supra note 2.

[6] S.B. 126, 134th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (OH. 2021); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2903.31 (LEXIS through File 3 (SB 22)).

[7] Hendrix, supra note 2.

[8] Susan Tebben, Ohio Hazing Bill Hopes to Change Law Around Coerced Student Drug and Alcohol Abuse: A new Ohio bill would establish “aggravated hazing” as a second-degree felony and make “hazing” a first-degree misdemeanor, Ohio Capital Journal (Mar. 29, 2021, 11:00 AM), https://www.citybeat.com/news/blog/21150240/ohio-hazing-bill-hopes-to-change-law-around-coerced-student-drug-and-alcohol-abuse.

[9] Id.

[10] S.B. 126, 134th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (OH. 2021).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Elizabeth J. Allan & Mary Madden, Hazing in View: College Students at Risk- Initial Findings from the National Study of Student Hazing (University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, 2008).

[15] Id. at 14.

[16] Id. at 16.

[17] Id. at 16-22.

[18] Hank Nuwer, Hazing deaths on American college campuses remain far too common- The biggest cause is alcohol poisoning, The Economist (Oct. 13, 2017), https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2017/10/13/hazing-deaths-on-american-college-campuses-remain-far-too-common.

[19] Joe Harrington, What is hazing and why does it exist on college campuses?, The Columbus Dispatch (Mar. 9, 2021, 12:46 PM), https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/2021/03/08/stone-foltz-why-do-fraternities-haze/4634150001/.

[20] States with Anti-Hazing Laws, StopHazing Consulting, https://stophazing.org/policy/state-laws/ (last visited Apr. 4, 2021).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id; Hazing Law – Interactive State Map, HazingPrevention.org, https://hazingprevention.org/home/hazing/statelaws/ (last visited Apr. 4, 2021).

[24] StopHazing Consulting, supra note 21; HazingPrevention.org, supra note 24.

[25] StopHazing Consulting, supra note 21.

[26] HazingPrevention.org, supra note 24.

[27] Hazing and its Consequences, HazingPrevention.org, https://hazingprevention.org/home/hazing/hazing-and-its-consequences/ (last visited Apr. 5, 2021).


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