Serving Franklin County, WA

Families press to put an end hazing

OLYMPIA – Sam Martinez, a freshman at Washington State University, was found dead from alcohol poisoning at his fraternity house just weeks into the 2019 school year. He was the victim of a hazing tradition at his fraternity.

Now his mother is pressing for rules that would prevent future tragedies. Houtz said her goal since her son’s death has been to “try and save a life for the one that was taken from us two years ago.”

According to Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-Pierce County, approximately 100 deaths associated with hazing have occurred in the U.S. since 2000. Washington established legislation prohibiting hazing in higher education in 1993, and currently only 44 out of 50 states have hazing-related laws in place.

The bill would require the University of Washington to prohibit hazing on and off-campus, to provide an educational program on hazing and include the UW’s anti-hazing policy in institutional materials on student rights and responsibilities.

It also requires institutions of higher education to maintain and publicly report violations of codes of conduct, anti-hazing policies, or state and federal laws relating to hazing offenses related to alcohol, drugs, sexual assault or physical assault.

Schools would also need to provide hazing prevention education to every employee, including student employees and volunteers and would require fraternities and sororities to notify their institution of higher education when an investigation of suspected hazing is instigated.

The cost will be significant, according to the bill’s fiscal note. In the first two years, the cost to the state will be about $1 million. That increases to almost 1.6 million by the 2025-27 biennium.

“Prevention, education, reduction, transparency, accountability that’s what’s before you today,” said Leavitt.

Leavitt said that 55% of students report hazing as a result of participating in clubs, organizations, and athletics on campus, and 95% of those cases go unreported.

“All the parents like me, first generation of immigrants to this country, who don’t have any experience with fraternities or the Greek system. I am here for them today,” said Hector Martinez, Sam Martinez’s father. As hard as it is for any parent to understand the risks associated with hazing, immigrants face additional language and cultural barriers.

Kathleen Wiant lost her son Collin in 2019 to hazing. For her this bill is about changing a culture where hazing is acceptable. She said she believes “reprehensible acts like beating and waterboarding are dressed up with words like tradition, and ritual and brotherhood, and a right of passage…We need to call it what it really is: it’s abuse and it’s barbaric.”

Houtz said it is important for organizations to show they have changed. “How will we know it’s safe for students to join again unless we can see and verify for ourselves that they have reformed?”

William Carlson said Sam Martinez was his best friend since the fourth grade.

“This bill can give all those people a chance of living a complete life and not have their friends or children be a breaking news story,” Carlson, said.


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