Hate Crimes and Hazing

Poised at the start of a brand new school year, students have much on their minds – finding ways to shake themselves from bed in the morning, getting along with strangers as roommates, finding places to eat on campus, and lastly, making good grades.

With all of this filling the capacity of students’ brains, not to mention having to be able to factor irrational numbers to the nth power, there seems to be little room for more serious, but not often spoken of, issues on campus.

Hazing and hate crimes may not be much of a worry for many locally, but they continue to be a problem for campuses around the country.Hazing involves persecution or harassment of a student for initiation into a club or organization with meaningless, difficult or humiliating tasks or actions. Contrary to popular belief, hazing is an act that can be committed by any organization, including, by not limited to, fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, marching bands or the military. Hazing is prohibited in the area by North Carolina state law.

Hate crimes are those that are committed as acts of intimidation, harassment, physical damage or threats motivated by hostility to ethnic background, national origin, religious belief, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, with the intention of causing fear and spreading hatred.

Both crimes can range from anywhere from vocal intimidation to severe violence or sexual assault.

Several nationally publicized incidents have occurred in recent years to bring to light the true dangers of any form of hazing. At a high school party in Bradenton, FL, authorities allege that 16-year-old James Brier was hazed by his peers. Angry after the incident, Brier confronted one of the students allegedly involved in the hazing, John Albert Acosta. Acosta was charged with manslaughter after snapping an artery in Brier’s neck during the fight, killing him. Acosta is currently on trial in Florida.

In another Florida school, Florida A&M University, administrators took actions on August 21 to restrict a long-standing tradition of hazing in the school’s famous Marching 100 band, according to reports from the Tallahassee Democrat. According to the newspaper, hazing rituals ranging from verbal abuse to “harsh paddling and beating” have been an integral part of the band’s identity.

Last schoolyear, A&M trumpet player Marcus Parker was hospitalized for kidney failure after being beaten in a hazing ritual. As a result, several students were arrested and expelled. In 1999, clarinet player Ivery D. Luckey was hospitalized after allegedly being paddled 300 times in an initiation ceremony.

Florida A&M’s anti-hazing actions are congruent with those being undertaken by schools and states around the country. According to the internet-based organization called Stop Hazing, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming are the only states without anti-hazing laws.

Hate crime laws are upheld in 40 U.S. states and generally involve crimes against race, religion and ethnicity. Congress attempted to pass a Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 1999 that would deem crimes based on hatred of gender, sexual orientation and handicap a federal offense, but failed.

Security on Campus, Inc., a non-profit organization against crime on college campuses, compiles college hate crime statistics from the Department of Education for universities in the United States. Their latest reports, for the year 2000, show that eight murders, 158 forcible sex offenses, 494 aggravated assaults, 1,021 simple assaults, 19 arsons, and three negligent manslaughters were the result of hate crimes.

At Western, not many cases of hazing or hate crimes are reported, according to officials. But some victims may not come forward with allegations because of fear, or because they feel they need to endure such crimes to fit in with others who have gone through such processes before them.

“We don’t have many cases, because most cases of hazing go unreported,” said Bill Haggard, associate vice chancellor of Student Affairs. “However, if a case of hazing is reported, it becomes a high priority case for us.”

Hazing charges are handled through the Student Affairs office and, if the case demands, local police. Hazing can bring both expulsions for individual offenders and loss of university recognition for organizations.The last hazing case to be brought to Student Affairs was five or six years ago, and involved the fraternity Delta Sigma, according to Haggard. The fraternity lost recognition but has recently reinstated a colony at Western.

Director of University Police and Traffic Services Gene McAbee says that Western has not seen a hate crime reported in three years.”The ones that were reported in past years had more to do with things like racial or sexually oriented slurs written on walls, and not the more extreme kinds that most people associate with the charges,” McAbee said.

Those who commit hate crimes are also subject to expulsion, as well as criminal charges, according to McAbee.

“We have a choice of referring the incident to Student Affairs, consulting with the district attorney, or both,” McAbee said. “Because those types of crimes are technically difficult to prosecute, we consult with the district attorney before any charges are filed.”

Those who would like to report incidents of hazing should contact Western’s university judicial coordinator, Jackie McHargue, at 227-2381.Those who feel they have been the victim of a hate crime should call campus police at 227-7301.