A bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that would outlaw certain forms of hazing has received strong support from University of Maryland administrators and fraternity and sorority leaders who would like to see the decades-old initiation rites put to rest.
The bill, which is before a Senate committee, would outlaw hazing that "recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student" seeking admission to any student group operating under the sanction of a college or university, according to Sen. John N. Bambacus (R-Allegany), the bill's sponsor.
Under current law, persons involved in hazing that causes serious injury or death can be charged with felonies. But under the new bill, hazing that causes less serious injuries would be classified as misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail, Bambacus said.
"I do believe it's important to have something in law, because people will pay attention and take notice to it," said Jim Wells, 21, a senior finance major and president of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. Doug Peters, president of the Intra-Fraternity Council, an umbrella organization of 25 fraternities on the College Park campus, testified in favor of the bill at hearings in Annapolis last week.
Nearly all of the 30 fraternities and 21 sororities at College Park practice some form of hazing, Wells said.
The support for the bill among students reflects a changing mood against hazing at College Park and other campuses across the country.
William Thomas, vice chancellor for student affairs at College Park, said, "There's been quite a movement among students . . . that hazing is a bad thing. So now, most national fraternities and sororities have strong rules against it."
Thomas said that while administrators at College Park do not view hazing as a major problem on campus, "There's enough of it around that it still bothers us."
Two years ago, Alpha Epsilon Phi fraternity was found guilty of hazing when it required pledges to steal more than $1,000 worth of property as part of a "scavenger hunt." A judicial board recommended that the fraternity's charter be suspended for four years, but university administrators instead placed the fraternity on probation.
Another group, the Gate and Key fraternity honorary society, was found guilty by a campus judicial board of "recklessly causing harm" to member Carlos Restrepo last year when it pressured him to swallow in one gulp a pitcher of beer, causing him to vomit and tear his esophagus. He was hospitalized for four days because of internal bleeding. The group was suspended for several months but has been reinstated.
Eileen Stevens of New York, who in 1978 started a national campaign against hazing after her son died in a brutal hazing incident at a New York college, said that 29 students have been killed in hazing incidents since her son's death.
Nearly all the deaths were alcohol-related, she said, and in the vast majority of cases no criminal charges were filed because victims were found to have given prior consent to the incidents.
Eighteen states have antihazing statutes, and legislation is pending in at least six, according to Bambacus, a professor at Frostburg State College.