Alvernia fights hazing with community lecture

Alvernia University hosted the Hazing Stops Here: Hazing Prevention Panel featuring anti-hazing advocates and mothers Evelyn Piazza, Lianne Kowiak and Rae Ann Gruver, who have all lost their sons due to the unlawful hazing rituals, on Wednesday evening.

“Guided by Franciscan tradition and core values, Alvernia University strives to foster a culture of care, inclusion, safety and respect across our campus and all of our locations,” said Senior Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Mary-Alice Ozechoski, M.A. “The pivotal stories that these panelists shared further educated and empowered our students, faculty and staff to intentionally and bravely act against hazing at Alvernia to ensure students are immersed in a collegial and safe community.”

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The event began with Piazza, Kowiak and Gruver discussing the tragic details of their families’ experiences with hazing, which all ultimately resulted in the loss of their sons.

“They kept checking his pulse and breathing,” Gruver recounted. “If you are ever checking someone’s pulse or breathing, you should be calling 911. No one called 911, which very much could have saved Max’s life that night, and he died on that couch.”

Student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff were required to attend, while all students, faculty and staff were invited to the panel.

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“The willingness of these women to share their unfathomable loss is a remarkable gift, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to share it with our student-athletes and student leaders with the hope of preventing any parent from ever having to go through what they did,” said Associate Vice President for Athletics Bill Stiles.

“No student or student-athlete should ever experience physical or emotional harm in order to be a part of a team or organization. We expect our student-athletes to be leaders on and off campus. It is incumbent upon them, and all student leaders, to foster safe and inclusive environments. We also expect them to speak up if they see any signs of hazing or mistreatment.”

After sharing their stories, Kowiak defined the various types of hazing and the cycle of abuse that occurs. Piazza shared the various laws surrounding hazing in the United States and Gruver shared the aftermath that follows hazing, including its immediate and long-term effects and impact. The three also discussed their contributions to the anti-hazing legislature and advocacy nationwide.

“Hazing is now a felony in 16 states and it’s because in those states, there was death first. We did get the law changed here in Pennsylvania, unfortunately, after Tim’s death. But it is now a felony here,” Piazza said in reference to the state’s Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law with her son’s namesake. “We also have federal legislations that we are pushing, including the Stop Campus Hazing Act.”

The Stop Campus Hazing Act was put in place to improve hazing reporting by requiring colleges to include hazing incidents in their Annual Security Report, prevent hazing by establishing campus-wide, research-based hazing education and prevention programs, and to help students and their parents make informed decisions about joining organizations on campus by requiring colleges to publish on their websites the institution’s hazing prevention policies and the organizations that have violated them.

“In our ongoing efforts to foster a culture of care, it is imperative to draw attention to hazing practices,” said Executive Director of Community Standards Kimberly Lemon, Ed.D.

“With the help of athletics and senior leadership teams, we were able to put this program together…Hazing impacts the students being hazed and their families but there’s also a psychological aspect for the people doing the hazing. Hazing causes physical, emotional and psychological damage, and the effects are lasting for all involved. Informing students about all of these things is so important.”

To close, the speakers posed a challenge for the campus and discussed examples of what students can do to change the culture surrounding hazing, develop relationships with their teams and peers and how they can be leaders against hazing on campus.

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