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Cal State Northridge case: Let's treat hazing like the crime it is

Cal State Northridge case: Let's treat hazing like the crime it is
Cal State Northridge student Armando Villa died during a fraternity hazing ritual. (Family photograph)

Good. The students and academic community of Cal State Northridge do not need a fraternity like Pi Kappa Phi. Its permanent shuttering at the college shouldn't be mourned by anyone, even its members. Maybe especially by its members, after the hazing of 19-year-old Armando Villa led to his death two months ago.

The young man's family alleges that he had been required to hike in rough terrain, in blistering weather, barefoot and with completely inadequate water. He and the others in his group were allowed no cellphones, the family said.

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Official details have yet to be revealed, but the university did find that Villa's death was a result of hazing.

The family is frustrated that his fraternity brothers have not come forward to explain exactly what happened. But the students' reluctance is understandable; the matter is still under investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

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The more important question is whether authorities will pursue criminal charges if they are able to determine which fraternity members are responsible. I hope so. Hazing is a crime in California, after the 2006 death of a Cal State Chico student who was forced to drink copious amounts of water and undergo other torments.

A law firm that published an explanation of the law online gives this criticism of it:

"The intentions behind Penal Code 245.6 PC were no doubt good ... but the law is also extremely problematic. Initiation rituals are incredibly common and have a long history in fraternities, school clubs, and sports teams. Most young people who participate in them have no idea that they could be guilty of a crime when things get out of hand. And California's anti-hazing law has the potential to really disrupt the lives of some of society's most promising young people: student athletes, college students, etc."

I find this passage puzzlingly off-base. It is exactly because initiation rituals are "incredibly common" and have a "long history" that we need to take heavy-handed steps against them. Milder ones, campus policies, suspensions and explanations haven't knocked much sense into this sometimes out-of-control Greek system. Let's start making young people very aware that they could be guilty of a crime, serve time and destroy their futures, by using the law if it applies in this case.

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It's rather extraordinarily insensitive to worry about the disruption in the lives of some student athletes and other "promising young people" when the other guy, the victim of their cruelty, is dead.

Maybe once they know not only that their actions are illegal but that other fine young people like themselves have felt some tough consequences, the dangerous craziness will finally sputter to a halt. Bring it on. It's worth disrupting some lives to make this happen.

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