ORLANDO, Fla. — Hazing on college campuses is a problem experts say is not only underreported but has gotten worse in the last decade.
According to the National Study of Student Hazing, more than half of college students involved in athletics or extracurricular activities experience hazing.
Since 2000, researchers at Franklin College have tracked over 100 hazing-related deaths on college campuses.
9 Investigates spent the last five months digging into what schools are doing about the issue and found a patchwork of reporting that leaves both students and parents in the dark.
We spoke to Florida native turned advocate Nicholas Mauricio, who was left with a permanent brain injury after a hazing incident at Florida State University in 2018.
Mauricio told 9 Investigates that he joined the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity in his freshman year of college in 2017.
“I just basically wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than myself,” said Mauricio.
The following semester, the then 20-year-old attended his first fraternity chapter meeting, unaware of the ritual he would be forced to participate in.
“They talked about a bunch of other stuff and then brought up a long-standing tradition in the fraternity house called ‘Brother of the Week’ and ‘Scumbag of the Week,’” said Mauricio.
Tallahassee police reports lay out what investigators said happened next.
Mauricio was elected the week’s scumbag for falling asleep too many times around the fraternity house. One of Mauricio’s fraternity brothers was then tasked with hitting him in the face as punishment.
“I was knocked out on impact,” Mauricio said. “Ended up falling backward; my head hit the concrete.”
Mauricio remembers little about his trip to the hospital and the time he spent in the ICU, but he recalled in painstaking detail the five years since.
The ritual left Mauricio with a permanent brain injury. He was forced to drop out of FSU and seek intensive therapy.
Dead matter in the front of his brain still affects everything from his speech to his personality, and he still regularly sees doctors related to his injuries.
Today, the fraternity brother who hit him faces charges, including battery, in a Leon County court case that is still playing out.
The Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity has stated that they’ve developed online teaching tools, which have been mandatory for all members. According to a spokesperson, that online portal includes revised policies and procedures. However, the fraternity spokesperson declined to comment on the ritual and what happened to Mauricio.
“We are not going to add to the story about an incident which took place many years ago and has been settled by all parties. In late 2018, AEPi began a restructuring of our health and safety strategies, beginning with a full audit of our risk management program,” said Jonathan M. Pierce, who handles media communications for the fraternity.
Mauricio told 9 Investigates he’s seeking justice in his criminal case and has embarked on a new mission: raising awareness for campus hazing.
Currently, there are no national anti-hazing laws to protect victims like Mauricio.
Instead, states have a patchwork that carries various punishments for those who commit hazing.
Attorney David Bianchi helped write Florida’s anti-hazing laws. They’re some of the toughest in the nation, allowing for felony charges in the most serious cases. But Bianchi believes the overall enforcement of existing laws is too lax.
“I’m very supportive of any law that makes the consequences of hazing more severe,” he said.
Bianchi represented Mauricio in a civil case that led to a settlement that helped cover his medical care.
The two both played a role in advocating for a provision in Florida’s hazing laws, which states that the first person to call 911 or provide aid to a hazing victim could be exempt from charges.
Bianchi and Mauricio said it’s meant to encourage people to seek help in emergencies. They believe that it’s saving lives in the state.
However, Bianchi points to another major challenge: hazing is not adequately reported or tracked.
After looking through records from Florida universities, 9 Investigates discovered not all schools track hazing the same way, including how many incidents are reported, how many investigations are launched, and what those investigations find.
Of six universities reached out to, only three made the info readily available: FSU, the University of Florida, and the University of South Florida.
That data showed in the last academic year, less than 75 hazing incidents were reported at FSU, UF, and USF combined. Of those, only 23 cases were investigated for potential hazing, and just three cases resulted in disciplinary action.
“There are far more actual incidents than what the data suggests,” said Bianchi, regarding 9 Investigates’ findings.
It would require colleges to include hazing incidents in their annual security reports, implement hazing education and prevention initiatives, and mandate colleges publish information on their website showing when organizations violate rules.
The legislation is seeing widespread support from hazing victims, including Mauricio.
“Speaking up is the best thing you can do,” he said.
As the legislation moves forward, Mauricio is hopeful its passage could mean one less case like his.
“We have more than enough history to look back on to see that this is an ongoing problem. Serious stuff needs to be done in order to change that,” he said.
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