Ohio is reconsidering Collin’s Law: The Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act. The bill was previously passed by the Ohio House of Representatives in November 2020, just a few days after the second anniversary of the passing of Collin Wiant. 

Wiant was a freshman at Ohio University when he died after collapsing on the floor of an unofficial, off-campus fraternity house of Sigma Pi on November 12, 2018, after previously being beaten, waterboarded, belted, and forced to consume drugs and alcohol. Wiant’s cause of death was asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion after he inhaled a canister of gas, also called a Whippit. 

While the bill passed in the House, the Senate did not vote on the bill and it fell to the wayside. However, most recently, another family has lost their son in a tragic moment of neglect. Bowling Green State University student Stone Foltz died on March 4, 2021 at another fraternity house. This time it was Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity which already had previous hazing allegations posed against them. 

With adjustments, Collin’s Law is being reintroduced to the Senate in light of the most recent death. The bill passed in the House with bipartisan support. Alterations to the bill include elevated hazing penalties, but lost bullying legislation that apparently made it undesirable for the education committee, according to Ohio Senator Theresa Gavarone. Gavarone stated that the bullying legislation previously included in Collin’s Law bogged down the law in the education committee (whatever that means) so the Senate could not vote on it. 

Collin’s Law would expand the definitions of hazing to include forced consumption of drugs and alcohol and increase criminal penalties for hazing. Currently in Ohio, hazing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor which essentially holds the same weight as not paying a parking ticket. How the definition of hazing does not include forced consumption of harmful substances, I have no idea because the basis of hazing is being forced to do anything. 

The bill would increase general hazing to a second-degree misdemeanor and hazing involving drugs or alcohol to a third-degree misdemeanor. Both of these are the equivalent of a crime against property or negligent assault. 

For your information, negligent assault is when an offender hurts someone, but does not mean to. Just by definition alone, this bill is not enough. 

Second-degree misdemeanors are crimes against property, so “general” hazing such as beating or being forced to humiliate yourself is not considered “assault,” but hazing that involves drugs and alcohol is considered “assault when you didn’t really mean to do it.” Also keep in mind, that a first-degree misdemeanor is literally assault. 

I appreciate the sentiment. I signed a petition to pass the bill because something is better than nothing. This bill does need to pass. 

Kathleen Wiant, Collin’s mother said, “This bill is about changing a culture where hazing is accepted and expected.” Hank Nuwer, professor emeritus at Franklin College in Indiana who wrote “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives” said, “It could help save a life, but it won’t stop hazing.” 

However, we all need to acknowledge that is not enough. The punishments are loose. The fact that the bill was held up in a committee because of further legislation on bullying is embarrassing. The fact that it was only introduced because a student died is neglectful. The fact that this is only being reintroduced because another student died is sad. 

Our representatives need to care more about people’s lives rather than focusing on the politics and optics of passing legislation only after people are killed. At the grassroots level, we need to care more. We need to pay more attention. We need to report if we see or hear anything that even looks like hazing. Hazing is not something that should be taken lightly or ignored if it seems like it’s harmless. If it is happening, even harmlessly, it will lead to someone getting hurt eventually. Even if you are not present, if you do not participate, or if you are not charged, if you know this is happening and someone gets hurt, you are an accomplice. You are responsible. You are part of the problem. 

Be part of the solution. 

Send a message to your representative to pass Collin’s Law here: https://www.votervoice.net/mobile/NAIC/2/campaigns/78281/respond?fbclid=IwAR3BlYi29uNcKwDtG-JkymsG8a-z9nxihV2G7dGENFV2rwUlRuO0ZUqJfVc

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