LCC applies new 'Sam's Law' in hopes to train students on anti-hazing | Washington
LCC applies new 'Sam's Law' in hopes to train students on anti-hazing | Washington

Source: Google News

Lower Columbia College has implemented new anti-hazing policies to match efforts by state lawmakers and the family after the death of a 19-year-old Washington State University during a fraternity initiation event in 2019.

Near unanimous support from lawmakers helped pass the 2022 Washington State Legislature “Sam’s Law Act,“ which expanded the definition of hazing and starting this school year requires all Washington colleges, LCC included, to have more transparent reporting, mandatory trainings for staff and students, and higher accountability for student groups.

The law came about two years after WSU freshman Sam Martinez died in November 2019 of alcohol poisoning during a fraternity initiation event that local police said may have pressured potential underage pledges into drinking alcohol.

Lower Columbia College, like many community colleges across the country, is seeing a drop in enrollment. 

Charges for allegedly furnishing minors with alcohol were brought against 15 of the WSU fraternity members, and the WSU Alpha Tau Omega chapter was suspended from campus until 2026.

Then-Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins told local news outlets that the statute of limitations for hazing charges had passed, preventing them from charging anyone with a more serious alleged offense.

Martinez’s death brought national publicity to WSU and the culture of Greek life, said Kendra Sprague, LCC’s vice president of foundation, human resources and legal affairs.

“The legislative changes require us to update what was defined as hazing and who could be held responsible,” Sprague said. “Initially, in the Code of Student Conduct, that applies to students. Now, students as well student organizations, athletic teams or living groups can be held accountable under the new changes.”

While many connect hazing primarily with Greek organizations, “Sam’s Law” refers to a range of student groups, Sprague said.

Anti-hazing trainings required at the beginning of each school year include an online “Voices for Change“ program and in-person seminars where students and staff will learn the updated definition of hazing, different scenarios they would be required to report, and how to seek help if they were experiencing it.

Sprague said LCC also created a six-person hazing prevention committee made of students, administrators and staff who will also go through trainings and have open discussions about potential hazing. That committee has already been selected and met within the last few weeks, she said, “to assess the efficacy of our training.”

LCC already had a definition and policy for hazing in its student conduct code prior to the 2022 law, Sprague said. The new definition — updated in the Legislature for the first time in 30 years — was implemented into LCC’s student conduct code as a way to follow the state law.

Disciplinary action for students accused of or found responsible for hazing remain the same as before, Sprague said, having been updated mostly for language in the student code of conduct to include the new definition under “Sam’s Law.”

Washington colleges and universities are also required to make findings from hazing investigations public.

Sprague said LCC is one of many institutions that supports a law to prevent what happened to Martinez from happening again.

A law prefiled Monday for the 2023 state Legislature also seeks to increase the penalties for hazing by counting it as a gross misdemeanor.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” Sprague said, “to send your child off to college for what should be the happiest times of their lives and then to get a call that something tragic has happened.”

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Sydney Brown is a news reporter for The Daily News covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.