In an unfortunate hazing incident in 2008, Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Theta Chi lost one of its brothers, Harrison Kowiak, on the night of his initiation. Since Kowiak’s death, his mother Lianne Kowiak has made it her mission to legislate hazing laws nationwide. The self-proclaimed “Haze Buster,” US Representative Frederica Wilson, has stood behind Kowiak and her cause, promising to file a bill denying financial aid to any and all students who participate in hazing.
Enter FratPAC, which initially sounded to me like some sort of national league of fraternal superheroes, but is actually a Political Action Committee representing fraternities and sororities. Their goal, as stated, is to “protect the fraternal experience we offer to our members.” The organization is known for lobbying to get tax breaks for chapter house renovations that promote the safety of residents, and for the past 19 months, its most recent endeavor has been dissuading Wilson from filing her anti-hazing bill as it stands, unbeknownst to Lianne Kowiak.
The argument against the bill is that there are already “good laws in place.” Universities have hazing policies, and 44 states have anti-hazing laws. Treating all hazing allegations identically, they say, is unfair. Deaths and injuries are different, from say, a scavenger hunt and should be handled differently. To deny financial aid to someone for having a pledge clean a kitchen, or go pick your necklace up from the house you shacked at last night, is disproportionate. They argue that a strict law would weaken the sanctity of the traditions of their organizations:
“We have been aggressively working with the congressional leader to develop a more favorable approach,” FratPAC and the other groups told their members in a mid-2012 memo. “For the moment, we believe that effort has been successful and federal hazing legislation is not likely to be introduced in 2012.”
Opponents of this anti-hazing bill also note that threatening to pull financial aid from students may target a certain demographic, who generally have a greater need for financial aid than others. They suggest that this type of penalty would have a greater impact on multicultural Greek organizations and HBCs than it would on traditional organizations.
FratPAC makes it clear that they do not support hazing, but rather that they want to work to make sure that a bill, if passed, would treat fraternities, sororities, and other organizations accused of hazing fairly. Wilson remains committed to filing a bill at some point, but admits that FratPAC has made her aware of “some hiccups” in the bill as it’s currently written.
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