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Ohio's University Presidents Voice Support For Hazing Reform

University officials from around Ohio spoke with Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday in support of hazing reform, as lawmakers in Columbus consider drafting a proposal to create legal penalties for hazing on college campuses.

Gov. DeWine included a plea to eliminate hazing in a regular coronavirus update Monday following the death of a Bowling Green University student during a hazing incident. The governor said he supports proposed changes to legislation from Ohio Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard).

“This tragic and senseless death should remind us all the moral imperative for us to drive hazing out of the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “It is a moral imperative that we do this, that we not tolerate it.”

Kunze will hold a press conference Wednesday morning to discuss the specifics of the hazing reform proposal. A similar effort stalled out last year after failing to garner enough support.

But now presidents from public universities around Ohio want to see change, said Kent State President Todd Diacon, and support legislation.

“Hazing is a practice that we all condemn, and it is something that worries all university leaders,” Diacon said. “Honestly, it worries us both as leaders of universities but as parents as well. None of us want to receive a phone call at 3 a.m. informing us of trauma or death of a loved one.”

Kent State has had no reported incidents of significant hazing in last four of five years, Diacon said, but it still poses a risk for students. University officials regularly speak with students to educate them on the risks, he said, and information is included in orientation and other first-year programming.

“It’s behavioral that’s based on culture and history. The way that we address that is with education,” Diacon said. “Our vice president for student affairs and our dean of students, in particular, meet consistently with our student leaders, including fraternity and sorority leaders. Hazing is always part of that conversation.”

Creating legal penalties for hazing in Ohio, including felony charges, might help diminish the activity, Diacon said. But universities need to do additional work to make a difference, he said.

“This proposed legislation facilitates prosecuting in these cases in a way that’s not facilitated under current legislation,” Diacon said. “Criminalization alone isn’t going to stamp out any behavior, and it’s not going to eradicate this behavior. And that’s why we have to commit to consistent and powerful messaging.”

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