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Hazing 101: How do college Greek organizations stem the tide?

A California college student died last July during a fraternity organized 18-mile hike for pledges. One year later, his family is still looking for answers. 

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    In this Sept. 5, 2014, file photo, relatives of the late Armando Villa react, as California State University, Northridge CSUN President Dianne Harrison, reads a statement regarding Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity activities that lead to the death of CSUN student Armando Villa, at a news conference at the CSUN campus in Northridge, Calif.
    Damian Dovarganes/AP/file
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On July 1, 2014, California State University-Northridge student Armando Villa went on an 18-mile hike in the scorching heat as part of a pledge activity for Pi Kappa Phi.

Pledges were reportedly forced to wear inadequate shoes and given little water. Villa collapsed during the hike and later died.

According to The Associated Press, Villa's mother and stepfather recently filed a lawsuit against the university, school administrators, and the fraternity, citing negligence and hazing. 

Many colleges and universities have anti-hazing policies that are grounded in their state’s anti-hazing laws. The website for California State Northridge refers to the California Penal Code on Hazing, which gives a definition of hazing as follows:

 “…any method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body...which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, university, or other educational institution in this state.”

But occasionally, the same institutions that clearly outline state law leave loved ones of hazing victims in the dark.

Many universities respond to hazing incidents in their Greek organizations by suspending, either temporarily or permanently, the fraternity or sorority responsible.

At Washington and Lee University in Virginia, a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity used a Taser on a recruit in March and the chapter was suspended for three years. The student who used the Taser was not suspended from the university or criminally charged, according to university spokesman Brian Eckert.

Is closing a fraternity chapter of Greek organizations an effective way to stop hazing incidents on campus?

There may be other steps that need to be taken, says a 2008 study by the University of Maine. The study claims that more students perceive positive rather than negative outcomes of hazing and that students reported limited exposure to hazing prevention efforts that extended beyond a “hazing is not tolerated” approach.

The study makes several recommendations to university staff and personnel:

  • Hazing prevention events should be designed to include all organizations on campus
  • Send a clear, strong message that hazing will not be accepted on campus and that those participating in it will be held accountable
  • Broaden the groups targeted for hazing prevention education to all university community members, including professors, administrators, and family members
  • Intervention and prevention methods should be research based and undergo regular assessment
  • Introduce hazing prevention efforts early in students' education
  • Avoid one time presentations of anti-hazing policies. Education should be comprehensive. 

Universities have gotten the message and some have started more active and educational anti-hazing campaigns. In April, the student government at Louisiana State University allocated $5,000 to fund an anti-hazing video and campaign.

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