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New Anti-Hazing Law Increases Penalties For Risky Fraternity & Sorority Rituals

A 2005 photo of the aftermath of an unrelated fraternity party
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A 2005 photo of the aftermath of an unrelated fraternity party Andrew Ratto/ flickr

On Monday, Governor Cuomo signed a new anti-hazing law that prohibits certain kind of physical contact, and prohibits any organization's initiation ceremony from requiring physical activity, in order to prevent dangerous sorority and fraternity pledge rituals. The law was created in response to the death of Michael Deng, a 19-year-old Baruch College student who died after being hazed in 2013.

"These hazing rituals are dangerous and reckless with potentially fatal consequences, and I'm proud to sign this legislation to protect college students across this great state," Governor Cuomo said in a statement. "As we prepare for the beginning of another school year, parents and students alike deserve to have peace of mind that we take hazing seriously and will have zero tolerance for these abuses in New York."

In December of 2013, the Pi Delta Psi chapter at Baruch College held a retreat in the Poconos, where they performed a "Glass Ceiling" ritual. Chen "Michael" Deng, a freshman, was one of the participants. He was blindfolded, carrying a weighted bag on his back, walking across a field and following the voice of his fellow frat brothers. Meanwhile, he was tackled, repeatedly, by other members of Pi Delta Psi.

After Deng lost consciousness, the fraternity brothers waited hours before taking Deng to the hospital 30 miles away. The Monroe County District Attorney's office said that the fraternity brothers "caus[ed] multiple blunt force trauma to his head and chest." Four members of the frat pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter last year, after initially being charged with murder.

Since then, deaths, injuries, dangerous behavior, and humiliating spectacles in fraternities and sororities have continued to make headlines. In November 2015, a University of Albany pledge died after being ordered to drink a handle of vodka. One year later, a hazing victim at SUNY Albany was hospitalized after participating in a ritual where her sorority sisters made her eat a mixture of mud, rotten milk, rotten eggs, and potentially urine. A month after that, a whistleblower at Hofstra revealed that for multiple semesters, the Sigma Pi chapter was performing initiation ceremonies including forcing new pledges to drink milk until they puked, keeping them in cages, and forcing them to kneel, blindfolded while having hot sauce poured on their heads.

Most states have laws against hazing, and even states with formerly weak laws are strengthening them. The New York Times reports that at least one hazing death has occurred each year since 1961.

In New York, the first case to be tried under a hazing law occurred in 1984, when a high school student suffered severe abdominal bleeding after being "blindfolded, slapped on the face, chest and stomach, kicked in the stomach while doing pushups and paddled on the buttocks with 2-by-4's."

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