July 27, 2021

The Dark World of College Hazing

After the death of BGSU sophomore, Stone Foltz, the topic of hazing has once again entered public discourse. 

On March 6, Foltz died after experiencing an alleged hazing incident that involved alcohol consumption. He was only 20 years old.

There has been a steady occurrence of hazing-related deaths for the past several years. According to statistical data from the University of Dayton, 55% of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing in some way. 

In February 2017, a Penn State second-year named Tim Piazza died after sustaining injuries while trying to leave a Beta Theta Pi house while intoxicated. Prior to his death, he was coerced into drinking large amounts of alcohol. He slammed his head twice – once against an iron railing and another time against a door. 

Piazza’s brain was swollen so bad that doctors had to remove half of his skull to settle the pressure. He was pronounced dead on Feb. 4, 2017 at the age of 19.

In November 2018, an Ohio University freshman named Collin Wiant died from asphyxiation after inhaling nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from a whipped cream charger. He was only 18 years old.  

Hazing as a practice goes all the way back to ancient Greece. There’s an interesting article written by Michelle A. Finkel, M.D. that breaks down the reasoning for these abusive practices. 

Often, the rationale behind this was that members saw young initiates as ignorant and uncivilized. To straighten them out, members believed they needed to be properly groomed before earning respect within the organization.

The Horrors

Methods of hazing include binge drinking, beatings, near-drownings, and sexual assault, just to name a few.  

Just a week ago, allegations rose from Indiana University that a sorority called Kappa Kappa Gamma was going to subject their pledges to a hazing activity that they called “blow or blow.” The pledges had to either snort a line of cocaine or give some fraternity men a blow job.

The sorority members claimed it was just a joke, but the experience still left a mark on the attendees, such as 19-year-old Langdan Willoughby, who states that the event left her, “fully physically, emotionally and spiritually disturbed by the entire thing.”

Whatsmore, college hazing shares similarities with gang initiations. A common tactic used by gangs are called “jump-ins” or “beat-ins”, which occur when gang members physically assault an initiate for a designated period of time. 

Seeing a new member endure this painful experience is a testament to their commitment and loyalty to the gang they so desperately want to be a part of. 

Scott Kunkle, acting chief of police for Capital PD, tried to provide reports on hazing, but the department’s files yielded nothing. 

“I can’t remember a time when a hazing incident was reported to us, but I am sure it probably happens,” Kunkle stated in an email. “I did hear one year they were making pledges swim in Alum Creek before, but it was never proven.”

Hazing Takes Many Forms

In an interview with the Chimes, Matt Rhyand, associate director of Student and Community Engagement at Capital, talked about how easily hazing can manifest itself on a college campus. It’s also important to understand that hazing goes beyond just physical abuse; it’s psychological, as well.

Matt Rhyand, associate director of Student and Community Engagement at Capital. Photo submitted by Matt Rhyand.

Rhyand explains that social power structures can create a sense of peer pressure for students that are wanting to be a part of a community.  

“Even though they may not be forced physically to consume alcohol, they’re forcing them through the creation of the environment,” Rhyand said. 

Rhyand himself experienced hazing while attending Ashland University. During his undergraduate years, he was a member of the club rugby team, which wasn’t recognized as a NCAA sport. 

“Prior to every game, the team captain would slap each individual to fire them up,” Rhyand said. “In my first game it happened so quick, I was like, what’s happening?”

At the time, Rhyand thought nothing of it. In an athletic setting, you expect physical contact to come with the territory. It was only years later when he realized how wrong and uncomfortable the situation was.

Hazing is a very nuanced thing. It’s not necessarily something that takes place in a Greek house. Rhyand’s experience took place in broad daylight in the middle of a rugby field with his parents watching. 

While Capital doesn’t have a rampant hazing problem, the tragedies that took place in Bowling Green and Athens could easily manifest themselves to Capital’s campus. 

Rhyand said, “No matter how safe or secure we may feel as a community, we have to be doing everything possible to ensure that those unfortunate tragedies don’t happen here.”

A New Dawn

Parents and lawmakers are fighting to rid hazing from college life. After the death of her son Collin, Kathleen Wiant pushed lawmakers to crackdown on hazing. 

Collin’s Law – at the time known as House Bill 310 – was successfully passed by the Ohio House of Representatives, but it got stalled in the state senate last December since members wanted more time to review the draft. Now that it’s a new year, the issue must be reintroduced before the General Assembly. 

Following the events in Bowling Green, Sen. Theresa Gavarone, with the support of Sen. Stephanie Kunze, has now reintroduced Collin’s Law in the form of Senate Bill 126.

If the bill passes, hazing will be classified as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. The bill is also pushing for statewide education on the different aspects of hazing.

  • Robert Cumberlander is the Editor-in-Chief of The Chimes and a senior at Capital University, majoring in Film and Media Production with a minor in Entrepreneurship.

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