New Texas anti-hazing law demands student and university accountability

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — New Texas laws passed during the 2019 legislative session go into effect on Sept. 1, 2019. One of them, Senate Bill 38, will bring new standards of safety to students across college campuses by adding to measures which eliminate hazing.  

“It is incredibly dangerous”

At the University of Texas football season opener, you might have noticed a new team firing off “Smokey the Cannon.”  

The Silver Spurs have taken over the tradition since the Texas Cowboys, a student organization who is normally in charge, have been suspended for the next six years due to hazing allegations related to the death of UT-Austin student Nicky Cumberland. 

“It is incredibly dangerous and so many have died,” said Senator Judith Zaffirini, a democrat out of Laredo. 

For over a decade, Senator Zaffirini has tried to bring an end to hazing at campuses across Texas. 

“If we had passed this bill in 2017, perhaps those Texas students would be alive today,” Sen. Zaffirini said. “We have a lot of alumni who think of the good ol’ days. They think of what was fun and what was really good-natured ribbing, but that’s not what it is today. They don’t understand the cruelty that is involved.”

This legislative session, Zaffirini succeeded. Beginning September 1, 2019, a new anti-hazing law goes into effect. 

SB 38 specifies the definition of hazing to allow for meaningful prosecution, provides increased immunity for “Good Samaritans” to report wrongdoing and adds accountability measures for universities. 

But Senator Zaffirini said SB 38 can only work if it has the full-fledged support of schools across the state of Texas.  

“This is an opportunity for the University of Texas at Austin to step up and to be a leader in the process,” Sen. Zaffirini said.

UT Reaction 

Students and alumni at the UT season opener against Louisiana Tech said they want to see an end to hazing on campus. 

“Treat a person as a soul and as an individual with excellence,” said Rob Snyder, from the UT Class of 1989. “There’s got to be some type of unity to be able to bring a place that is going to protect the students. They need to do it quickly.”

Steve Mast, a UT graduate from the class of 1992, was in a fraternity and a member of the UT civil engineering society. He explained the importance of group-bonding, but said there is a definite limit. 

“Going through something uncomfortable sometimes can make people stronger as a group, but I don’t think people need to get hurt in order for that to happen,” Mast said. 

Current UT students said the news of Nicky Cumberland’s death sent shockwaves throughout the campus. 

“At a school like this, when you lose someone, whether you knew them or not, it affects you in a way because that could have been anyone, it could have been me if I had joined,” said Nick Reseneis, a junior at UT-Austin. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for UT-Austin said the school is examining ways to implement the new reporting changes by the January 1, 2020 deadline. He said the new state law provides new tools for the university to hold student organizations accountable and he hopes students will continue to come forward to report hazing so prosecutors can pursue legal action accordingly. 

“Transparent and regular reporting of hazing violations is a key provision in the new law. For many years, UT has addressed this through its hazing memo sent to students each semester, which spells out organizations that have been disciplined and their sanctions. The law seeks more detailed reporting, which we hope will lead to increased awareness that will help us end hazing.”

J.B. Bird, Director of Media Relations & Issues Management, UT-Austin

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