In the past, colleges and universities may have looked the other way regarding hazing that that took place either on or off campus, but the climate today is one of zero tolerance. Not only is hazing entirely prohibited by colleges and universities, it is also a criminal offense in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Colleges and universities will generally consider students or a campus student organization and its members to be engaged in hazing if:
- Engaging in any activity, for purpose of initiation or continuing membership, which recklessly or intentionally endangers the physical or mental health of a student. This means any potentially dangerous forced physical activity, any activity which could cause a student to suffer extreme mental stress as well as any form of forced activity potentially harmful to the mental health or dignity of a student.
- Hazing activities may include, but are not limited to the following activities: whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements; forced consumption of food, liquor, drugs (legal or illegal) or any other substance; sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact; conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment; nudity, coerced sexual activity, confinement, physical restraints, mental harassment or any prohibitive behavior as defined by the college or university's code of conduct.
- An organization and its student members will also be considered to be engaged in hazing if pledge, initiation, or continuing membership activities cause the willful destruction or removal of public or private property.
Potential Criminal Consequences of Hazing
When a student is accused of hazing, they are not only subject to their college or university's disciplinary process, they can also be subject to criminal charges.
In New Jersey, hazing is a criminal offense under § 2C:40-3 of The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, which states:
- A person is guilty of hazing, a disorderly persons offense, if, in connection with initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization, he knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates or engages in any conduct, other than competitive athletic events, which places or may place another person in danger of bodily injury.
- A person is guilty of aggravated hazing, a crime of the fourth degree, if he commits an act prohibited in subsection a. which results in serious bodily injury to another person.
In Pennsylvania, hazing is codified under 24 Pa.C.S.§ 5351, and is a third degree misdemeanor. Act 175 of 1986 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the Anti-Hazing Law) prohibits college and university students and student organizations from hazing applicants for membership and from hazing persons who are already members to maintain their memberships in organizations. Act 175 also provides that no college or university student can consent to being hazed. Any activity falling within the definition of hazing activities is considered to be a forced activity, subjecting the organization and its members to the full range of penalties. Pennsylvania law specifically defines hazing as:
- Any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.
- The term shall include, but not be limited to, any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug or other substance, or any other forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual, and shall include any activity which would subject the individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual, or any willful destruction or removal of public or private property.
- For purposes of this definition, any activity as described in this definition upon which the initiation or admission into or affiliation with or continued membership in an organization is directly or indirectly conditioned shall be presumed to be “forced” activity, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.
In an effort to combat hazing, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania also require colleges and universities to adopt anti-hazing policies and to establish rules and penalties for violations.
New Jersey goes a step further, and mandates its Office of Attorney General § 18A:3-25. to develop and maintain a "Pledge's Bill of Rights" which outlines acceptable and unacceptable behavior and activities in regard to the pledge or rushing activities of college and university fraternities and sororities and other similar campus organizations. In developing the bill of rights, the Attorney General shall review the existing pledge and anti-hazing policies and procedures of New Jersey colleges and universities and shall, as appropriate, incorporate those policies into the bill of rights. The Attorney General shall make the "Pledge's Bill of Rights" available to each college and university within New Jersey.
If you or your student is faced with a Hazing disciplinary violation, contact student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento today.