Students disagree on definition of hazing
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 19:02
I’m going to begin this with a story. Friday morning while waiting in the Blanton Building with my high-school-aged little sister for her tour of the campus to start, I encouraged her to do what I typically do three times a week — read The Daily Campus.
After a characteristically typical comment from her questioning why a newspaper that is published tri-weekly has the word “daily” in its title, she directed me to Christopher Saul’s piece on the definition of hazing, which I hadn’t gotten to yet as I was rereading Student Body President Mace’s letter which I thought looked almost as good in print as it did when he delivered it to the Senate on Tuesday.
But back to my sister. She had read Saul’s piece and then started laughing at what she correctly perceived as a ludicrous interpretation the Texas Hazing Statute. Saul’s misreading of the statute would have readers believe that mild or completely passive activities like workouts in athletics, the wearing of school uniforms or parents having their children make healthy eating choices qualify as hazing.
Let me make this clear: that is not what the statute says or does.
Frankly, I find the idea that any statute might do so laughable on the basis that no Texas Legislature, especially the 74th which was made up of democrats who had just defied the odds and managed to hold onto both chambers despite the republican wave of 1994, would pass such a law. No governor, especially then Governor George W. Bush, would sign such a law, and even if Texas somehow elected a legislature and governor who together wanted to commit group political suicide there is no way such a statute would endure for eighteen years without being repealed or struck down in its entirety by the courts.
What the statute actually does is provides a legally distinct definition of hazing that is framed by a set of banned activities which qualify as hazing and in listing those activities provides a non-exhaustive set of possible examples.
For instance, the statute bans “any type of physical brutality, such as whipping, beating, striking, branding, electronic shocking, placing of a harmful substance on the body or similar activity.” In this case the banned conduct is physical brutality and then a list of what might be physical brutality is provided. The statute also bans “any type of physical activity, such as sleep deprivation, exposure to the elements, confinement in a small space, calisthenics or other activity that subjects the student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the mental or physical health or safety of the student.”
In this case the law defines hazing as any physical activity that presents an unreasonable (a legal term that typically means unreasonable in the eyes of an average member of society and does not include regular athletic practice, school uniforms or the ordinary consumption of vegetables) risk of harm to the student’s health or safety, while again providing a non-exhaustive list of activities that could be or become unreasonably harmful.
The Texas Hazing Statute is not perfect, no law is, but in terms of helping to hold those who haze legally accountable the law is remarkably good as it was written and as it has been applied by the courts. It has not become some broad Orwellian mechanism for Texas to attempt the prevention of harm through fascist regulation of persons everyday lives.
While Saul’s point that hazing is bad and should stopped is correct and something I agree with, his misconstrued understanding of what the Texas Hazing Statute says and does needs to be corrected. I can only hope that most of the students who read it laughed as my sister did, rather than accept his statements on the law as being accurate.
Cornell is a second year at the SMU Dedman School of Law.