Families, advocates walk Capitol Hill to advance hazing prevention legislation
July 29, 2022
Washington, D.C. – Parents who lost children to hazing, as well as the leaders of anti-hazing advocacy groups met with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle this week to promote legislation that seeks to prevent hazing in higher education.
The Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act is a bipartisan and bicameral bill (H.R. 2525/S.744) that would require colleges and universities to disclose and take action to prevent hazing incidents on their campuses. The bill defines hazing in federal law; calls for higher education institutions to include hazing incidents as crime statistics in Clery Act Annual Security Reports (ASRs); and mandates ongoing educational and comprehensive research-based programming on hazing for campus stakeholders.
Among those who met with lawmakers were Julie and Gary DeVercelly, Sr., parents of Gary, Jr. who was killed in a fraternity hazing ritual in 2007; Cindy Hippps, mother of Tucker Hipps who was killed in 2014, Kim and TJ Burch, parents of Nolan who was killed in 2014, Marie Andre, mother of George Desdunes who was killed in 2011, and Eric and Linda Oakes, parents of Adam who was killed in 2021.
“As 2022 marks the fifteenth anniversary of Gary’s death and we celebrate the beautiful life he lived, we are emboldened in our commitment to get the REACH Act passed,” the DeVercellys said. “We have spent many long, hot days walking the Hill in D.C. and many early mornings on calls with legislators, sharing our family’s tragedy. But we aren’t just raising awareness, we are offering a solution. Please honor Gary’s memory and join us.”
Joining the DeVercellys and other parents of hazing victims were students, as well as the leaders of three groups — Clery Center, StopHazing and SAFE Campuses, LLC — that have worked to prevent hazing and advance the REACH Act. The advocates had more than 40 scheduled meetings with lawmakers and their staffs, as well as more than 25 drop-in sessions, to share personal stories about the harmful impacts of hazing and how federal legislation is integral to preventing it and keeping students across the country safe.
“Listening to the incredibly brave families share their stories was a painful reminder that while we wait for federal legislation to address hazing, lives continue to be lost. We spoke with many members of Congress who recognized that the REACH Act is long overdue and who are committed to helping us get this bill passed,” says Jessica Mertz, Executive Director of the Clery Center.
According to the National Study of Student Hazing, 55% of college students participating in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing. Nearly every year since the mid-1900s, at least one student has been killed due to hazing.
The study’s co-author is Elizabeth Allan, professor of higher education at the University of Maine, Principal of StopHazing and director of the Hazing Prevention Consortium. Allan says hazing in higher education is a campus-wide issue that results in a spectrum of harm. Given that it is also a nationwide problem, she says federal legislation is needed to help address it.
“The REACH Act will strengthen campus hazing prevention with a clear definition of hazing, consistency and transparency in documenting incidents, and education about hazing and how to prevent it in colleges and universities,” Allan says.
The delegation of parents, students and experts that visited the capital this week represents the largest coordinated effort to talk to lawmakers in support of REACH, reflecting growing grassroots and public demand for accountability and prevention of hazing. More than 30 organizations have endorsed the act and hundreds of individuals have submitted advocacy letters to their respective legislators.
For more information about REACH, please visit: https://stophazing.org/policy/reach/