Congress is Failing to Take Action on College Student Safety
November 2, 2021
Contributing Author: Rebecca Tyus, MPP Candidate at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy
Today student safety on college campuses revolves around the COVID-19 pandemic. But we cannot forget the dangers that our students faced before the pandemic and that they continue to face today. On average there has been a hazing-related death every year since the mid-1900s. Our federal government has failed to enact hazing prevention legislation and protect our students.
Congress can act now on legislation currently introduced to curb hazing and protect college students. H.R. 2525/S. 744, the “Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act,” is a bipartisan piece of legislation with the goal of educating students about hazing and promoting student safety. This piece of legislation would create a nationwide definition of hazing, require universities to include hazing incidents in their Annual Security Reports (ASRs), and implement educational programming on hazing. While the REACH Act has been introduced in three Congresses, Congress still has yet to act upon it.
Hazing is often prevalent as it’s seen as a tradition and part of campus culture. The negative effects of hazing are very clear and widespread though. Research has found that 55% of college students involved in clubs, teams, and student organizations experience hazing. 69% of students were aware that hazing occurred on their campus (Allan & Madden, 2008). An overwhelming number of students are being affected by hazing.
Hazing can be violent and intimidating in nature. It can include beating, paddling, branding, sexual assault, and the forced consumption of alcohol and drugs. At its extreme, hazing is lethal. In just the first part of 2021, three students lost their lives to hazing.
These violent actions not only put the safety of students at risk in those moments but also later on. Students often suffer from adverse mental health effects after hazing incidents occur. This ranges from struggling academically to struggling with suicidal thoughts. To protect the physical and mental safety of our students, Congress needs to pass hazing prevention legislation now.
While 44 states have anti-hazing laws, the provisions in most of those laws are weak. Only a handful of states have tougher laws. These tougher laws include hazing being a felony, requiring school policy development, and some having a comprehensive definition of hazing. States with weak laws usually lack these provisions and have few enforcement mechanisms in place.
With varying policies across the states, many of our students are left unprotected. The federal government needs to step in and create a national hazing prevention standard. The REACH Act has the components to do that through the definition, reporting structure, and prevention education requirements. There is no reason that every state shouldn’t be governed by these provisions. A student should be protected against hazing regardless of what state they attend college in.
It is not uncommon for Congress to take action in trying to promote safety on college campuses. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics (Clery) Act was originally passed in 1990 and requires universities to disclose campus safety information. The act has been updated several times since then to include provisions addressing dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Considering the risks to student safety and the deaths that are occurring, Congress needs to again amend the Clery Act to include hazing. The REACH Act allows Congress to do just that.
The REACH Act would put in place measures to prevent hazing from occurring. By requiring universities to include hazing incidents in their security reports, students and parents would have the tools to know the prevalence of hazing on their campus. A research-based education program will ensure that all students, staff, and stakeholders are properly educated about hazing and hazing prevention. This would move beyond the simple “hazing is not tolerated” framework and give students the tools to prevent hazing before it occurs.
The REACH Act has broad bipartisan support. This summer a coalition of over 30 national organizations signed a letter in support of the bill. The letter urged the members of the House and Senate education committees to send the REACH Act to the floor for a vote. With overwhelming support, there is no reason for Congress to not pass the REACH Act.
Students are dying. It is past time for Congress to take action to prevent hazing before more lives are lost.
For more information about the REACH Act, visit StopHazing.org. What can you do to help move REACH through Congress?
- You can quickly send an email to your Representatives today, urging them to cosponsor REACH Act here.
- If your organization would like to endorse REACH, you can complete this form.
- Are you a student? You can join SNAP – a nationwide network of students working to prevent hazing!
Questions? Reach out to Meredith@stophazing.org.
This blog post was written by Rebecca Tyus, Master’s in Public Policy Candidate at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy. Rebecca served as a StopHazing & Clery Center graduate intern in the summer of 2021.