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SB 72: Ban Hazing in South Dakota Schools

Maybe the forced activity Governor Kristi Noem should be banning from our schools isn’t practical civics education but hazing.

Senator Mike Rohl (R-1/Aberdeen) is proposing Senate Bill 72, which would make hazing a crime. The bill seems to wade into some tricky definitional ground:

  1. SB 72 defines hazing as “forced activity that endangers the health or safety of a student or that subjects the student to extreme mental stress” “during a student’s initiation or admission into any organization operating in connection with a school, college, or university.”
  2. “Forced activity” is defined as “any activity that is a condition of initiation or admission into the organization, regardless of the student’s willingness to participate in the activity.”

Now I’m all for a ban on hazing. I hate the false notion that forcing people to engage in dangerous, degrading activities is a healthy, respectful way to make newcomers feel accepted and appreciated in a community. (Not quite the same, but see also: humiliating teachers by making them “Dash for Cash” as a public spectacle at a hockey rink.) Hazing is simply bullying, subjugation of powerless individuals to powerful individuals, dressed up in tradition and institutional affirmation.

But as written, SB 72 could prohibit physical training required to participate in ROTC on campus. Pull ups, five-mile runs—such activities can put one’s health at risk and create extreme mental stress. And what about auditions for the spring musical? You want an example of extreme mental stress”? Imagine standing up alone on stage in a school auditorium and trying to sing “America the Beautiful”  in front of a gruff looking director and a few dozen theater kids to win a role in the play.

Perhaps SB 72 would benefit from following the example of other states that include specific examples of hazing in their statutes. Massachusetts says hazing includes “whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.” Nebraska itemizes similar brutal treatment and includes “an act of sexual penetration, an exposure of the genitals of the body done with intent to affront or alarm any person, [and] a lewd fondling or caressing of the body of another person.” It may be impossible to create an exhaustive list of all the means by which organized bullies might degrade and brutalize new applicants, since bullies are devious, but an anti-hazing law should be very clear in the behavior it targets and avoid unintended consequences.

Senator Rohl has a lot of examples to choose from. 44 states have already outlawed hazing. Why South Dakota is always last to civilize is an open and interesting sociological question.

SB 72 prescribes three levels of punishment:

  1. Reckless hazing would become a Class 2 misdemeanor.
  2. Intentional hazing would become a Class 1 misdemeanor.
  3. Malicious hazing that causes serious bodily injury would become a Class 6 felony.

Interesting that Rohl would include serious bodily injury as a criterion to turn hazing into a felony but not include the extreme mental stress. Evidently extreme humiliation isn’t as serious of a crime as forty whacks.

Senate Bill 72 offers plenty of room for debate about legal particulars. But on face, Senator Rohl’s proposal is a welcome step toward catching up with most of the rest of the states in respecting the basic dignity of every student in our schools and universities.

9 Comments

  1. Amy B. 2022-01-11

    Kristi Noem wouldn’t give this attention because it’s an actual ‘right now’ problem. She likes to fix imaginary and ‘what if’ issues that get her attention and a reason to use that TV studio the tax payers paid for.

  2. O 2022-01-11

    I believe agonizing over the ACT for college admission would meet this definition of hazing.

  3. DaveFN 2022-01-11

    SD BOR policy language is much less explicit in comparison with Massachusetts and Nebraska law:

    “2.4.8. Hazing, which includes, but is not limited to, an act that, as an explicit or implicit condition for initiation to, admission into, affiliation with, or as a
    condition for continued membership in a group or an organization:
    • Is likely to, or would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to, endanger the physical health of an individual or cause psychological discomfort or distress through treatment that a reasonable person would consider to be humiliating, intimidating, or demeaning;
    • Destroys or removes public or private property;
    • Involves the consumption of alcohol or other substances to excess; or
    • Violates any Board Policy or Institutional Policy.

    2.4.8.1. The express or implied permission of the individual being hazed does not make the behavior acceptable. It is also a violation of this provision to
    solicit, aid, or attempt to aid another person in planning or committing Hazing.”

    https://www.sdbor.edu/policy/Documents/3-4.pdf

  4. John 2022-01-11

    Sen Rohl’s proposal, amended MUST pass this session. It’s not rocket science.
    Use the best, most reasonable safeguards from the policies of the 44 states having laws. Ensure carve-outs exist for organized, supervised training such as the military (college and junior ROTC, SDNG, law enforcement — these entities MUST psychologically and physically stress volunteers). Consider lesser carve-outs for mere sports training (despite the coaches and fans – sports training is not life or death).
    The LRC, administration, SDNG, and his fellow legislators MUST pile on to craft a better bill.
    Hat tip to Sen Rohl.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-11

    Well…leave it up to the local school boards and the Board of Regents. I underwent “pledge life” and “hell week” and it was mostly fun though the objective of knocking the rough edges off a freshman was achieved. I also played a year of “freshman football” back before freshmen were eligible and, as we scrimmaged the Varsity a couple days a week, it could certainly be characterized as “harmful to your health” unless you like concussions and dislocated joints. Basically, it was part and parcel to growing up and fitting in. Life got a lot easier after that freshman year.

  6. John 2022-01-11

    Alibi, also create a psychological carve-out for civics / history / theater / English teachers to cover the deprivation of the unedited human experience.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-11

    “organized, supervised training”—good language, John! Senator Rohl, I hope you’re reading: Dakota Free Press readers want to help you improve and enact your bill.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-11

    DaveFN, good note on the Regents’ existing policy against hazing.

    I am confident more students are harmed by hazing than by critical race theory, action civics, transgender kids picking their own bathrooms, or the absence of mandatory moments of silence at the beginning of each school day in South Dakota or anywhere else.

  9. mike from iowa 2022-01-12

    Way off topic, but here goes, USD opens the football season in iowa City against iowa Hawkeyes. Since no one appears to love college athletics.

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