Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Lucy Jung
Lucy Jung is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
Greek life is widely perceived as a staple of the American collegiate experience. In the United States, approximately 750,000 college students are sorority or fraternity members, with individual campus memberships ranging from less than five percent to more than 50 percent of a university’s student body . Given the benefits of Greek life, it is not surprising that a great number of students would opt to join these organizations. Membership in a sorority or fraternity offers the opportunity to form close ties with like-minded people, expand one’s social network, and seize professional opportunities . However, there exists a sadistic side to greek life that cannot be ignored: hazing.
Hazing is defined as a “ceremony” to induct new sorority or fraternity members—also referred to as “pledges”—into an exclusive society (Freeman). However, hazing is far from a ceremony in reality. Oftentimes, pledges submit themselves to physical and emotional manipulation and are forced to commit harmful and risky acts . Hazing activities range from trivial or demeaning tasks aimed at humiliating pledges to reckless acts resulting in major injuries or even death.
In response to the grave consequences of hazing, 44 out of 50 states have instituted anti-hazing laws. Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming are the only exceptions. While the severity of anti-hazing laws varies significantly from state to state, hazing is typically considered a misdemeanor and punished with fines . Only 10 states consider hazing a felony when it results in death or physical injury .
In the state of Pennsylvania, instances of hazing have led to a ban on certain fraternities and spurred the establishment of anti-hazing laws. In 2013, The death of Baruch College student Michael Deng led Pennsylvania to impose a 10-year ban on the national fraternity Pi Delta Psi . In 2017, a 19-year-old Penn State University student named Tim Piazza died at a fraternity party as a result of hazing activities . Piazza was given 18 drinks in 82 minutes, causing him to drunkenly fall down multiple times, including twice down a flight of stairs. Although many people at the party had witnessed his fall and taken videos, no one called for help for nearly 12 hours. Piazza was quickly moved to the hospital but did not survive his head, lung, and spleen injuries .
Following Piazza’s death, 26 fraternity members were prosecuted and 18 were charged. Eight members were charged with involuntary manslaughter while the rest were charged with other offenses such as hazing and tampering with evidence. The fraternity and its members faced more than 850 criminal charges . In an effort to strengthen the state’s existing anti-hazing law, Pennsylvania passed the “Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law,” which has been in effect since November 2018.
The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law strengthened penalties for hazing by introducing a new tiered system: hazing resulting in serious penalties, physical harm, or death would be a third-degree felony, which may be punishable by imprisonment up to 7 years and fines of up to $15,000. Hazing resulting in less severe bodily injuries would be a third-degree misdemeanor, which may be punishable by imprisonment up to one year and fines of up to $2,500 .
In addition, the Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law has created a safe-harbor provision for students seeking help for an injured or endangered peer. Under the law, one is exempt from prosecution if they call the police or seek assistance for someone in need of help .
Every year or so brings news of a new tragic yet avoidable death; how long will it be before another healthy, young college student dies as a result of hazing? Although deaths resulting from fraternity or sorority hazing remain rare, it is nevertheless important for governments, universities, parents, and students to consider whether hazing is truly worth the risk.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.
 TBS Staff, “Joining a Fraternity or Sorority: The Pros and Cons of Greek Life,” TheBestSchools.org, Feb. 12, 2019, https://thebestschools.org/magazine/joining-a-fraternity-or-sorority-real-pros-and-cons-of-greek-life/.
 Jill Barshay, “Proof Points: New Poll Points to College and Career Benefits of Greek Life despite Criticism,” The Hechinger Report, July 29 2021, https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-new-poll-points-to-college-and-career-benefits-of-greek-life-despite-criticism/.
 Veronica Freeman, “College Hazing: What It Is and How to Stop It,” BestColleges.com, Oct. 21, 2019, www.bestcolleges.com/blog/college-hazing/.
 Hayley Beitman, “Next Wave: Anti-Hazing Laws: The New Bullying.” The New Bullying, Apr. 27, 2012, https://news.jrn.msu.edu/bullying/2012/04/06/united-states-hazing-laws/
 “Nationwide Hazing Laws,” Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A., https://www.stfblaw.com/hazing-lawyers/nationwide-hazing-laws.
 Dakin Andone, “Fraternity Banned from Pennsylvania for Pledge's Hazing Death.” CNN, Cable News Network, Jan. 10 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/08/us/michael-deng-fraternity-sentencing/index.html.
 “Gov. Wolf Signs the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, Protecting Students,” Governor Tom Wolf, Nov. 13, 2018, www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/governor-wolf-signs-timothy-j-piazza-antihazing-law-protecting-students-incr easing-penalties/.
 Colin Dwyer, “Penn State Student Given 18 Drinks In 82 Minutes Before Hazing Death, Prosecutors Say,” NPR, Nov. 13, 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/13/563840154/penn-state-student-given-18-drinks-in-82-minutes -before-hazing-death-prosecutors.
 Hilary Hanson, “Fraternity And Members Face Hundreds Of Charges In Hazing Death,” HuﬀPost, May 22, 2019, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/beta-theta-pi-penn-state-hazing-timothy-piazza_n_590e3636e4b0e7021e9834e1.
 Susan Snyder and Liz Navratil, “Tougher Penalties for Hazing Likely in Pennsylvania,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 2018, https://www.inquirer.com/philly/education/pennsylvania-fraternity-hazing-felony-penn-state-tim-piazza-jake-corman-20180418.html.