Ohio’s governor and two U.S. senators are calling for greater punishment and accountability for hazing crimes in the wake of the death last year of an 18-year-old Ohio University student who had been a pledge for a now-expelled OU fraternity chapter.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s spokesperson Dan Tierney said Tuesday that DeWine would like to see Ohio’s criminal hazing statute updated, with the minimum potential penalty for anybody found guilty of hazing being upped from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony (which penalties increasing based on the “harm caused by the defendant”).
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has co-sponsored the END ALL Hazing Act, which was introduced to the U.S. Senate last June, according to spokesperson Rachael Hartford. The act would require colleges to publish lists of findings for student organizations that have violated university policy on hazing, among other changes. Brown also joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, earlier this year in introducing the REACH Act (Report and Educate About Campus Hazing) to the U.S. Senate.
Ohio’s other senator, Rob Portman, said in a statement on his website on Oct. 31 that he supports the END ALL Hazing Act, and directly connected it to the death of 18-year-old Collin Wiant after he was found unresponsive at the alleged off-campus fraternity annex of the Sigma Pi OU fraternity chapter.
Wiant – who allegedly was a pledge of that chapter – died of asphyxiation due to nitrous-oxide ingestion at a party at 45 Mill St. in Athens.
That chapter was expelled from OU last April for multiple violations of the university’s alcohol and hazing policies, The NEWS previously reported.
Wiant’s death is the subject of a lawsuit in Athens County Common Pleas Court by Wiant’s parents against the former local and national chapters of that fraternity.
DeWine spokesperson Tierney said the governor believes that it’s time for the state Legislature to update the state’s law against criminal hazing, which was last updated in 1983. The law defines hazing as “doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”
Tierney said DeWine believes the penalty should be stiffened for hazing, and for the law to be expanded so that it doesn’t just apply to cases where a student or other person is being initiated into an organization.
DeWine called hazing “disgusting” and “unacceptable,” Tierney said, and the governor offered his condolences and support to the Wiant family.
“The governor himself and his wife… did lose a child in a terrible accident, so they certainly have nothing but sympathy and empathy for the Wiant family, and the governor was very laudatory toward the Wiant family for working to achieve some good in the face of tragedy,” Tierney said.
DeWine’s comments came after the Columbus Dispatch posted an in-depth investigation last week into Wiant’s death and the fraternity that he had pledged with.
Sen. Brown in a statement provided by his spokesperson called for change.
“Ensuring our schools and college campuses are safe is a top priority,” Brown said. “By encouraging our academic communities to address these incidents head-on and provide more information on hazing incidents to prospective students and families, we can better ensure safer environments for students across Ohio and this country.”
Sen. Portman wrote in a statement on his website that he was prompted to support the bill after learning of the death of Wiant.
“No family should have to endure the pain the Wiant family went through in losing their beloved Collin to hazing,” Portman wrote. “I want to thank them for their tireless advocacy to stop hazing on college campuses and prevent other families from losing loved ones.”