By Victoria Merlino
Five years after the brutal hazing death of a Baruch College freshman from Flushing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an anti-hazing bill into law that advocates say will protect students from dangerous initiation rituals as they return to school, sports teams and Greek societies.
The new law, which Cuomo on Monday, prohibits physical contact during any organization’s initiation ceremony. Those who engage in such behaviors face up to one year in prison.
“These hazing rituals are dangerous and reckless with potentially fatal consequences, and I’m proud to sign this legislation to protect college students across this great state,” Cuomo said. “As we prepare for the beginning of another school year, parents and students alike deserve to have peace of mind that we take hazing seriously and will have zero tolerance for these abuses in New York.”
The bill was inspired by the death of college freshman Chun Hsien “Michael” Deng, a student at City University of New York’s Baruch College who died in December 2013 during a hazing ritual for fraternity Pi Delta Psi.
As part of the activity, known as the “glass ceiling,” Deng and other pledges were forced to carry a backpack full of sand across a yard while other fraternity members physically blocked them during an event in Pennsylvania.
Deng was knocked unconscious after members beat him during the ritual. He remained unresponsive for an hour before fraternity members took him to a hospital. He was later pronounced brain-dead.
“Michael Deng’s death was a horrific and preventable tragedy, and I was proud to sponsor this legislation to honor his memory and prevent future families’ heartbreak. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation to save lives and bring comfort to Michael’s family,” said Queens Assembly Member David Weprin.
The new law is the latest chapter in Baruch’s long reckoning process in the aftermath of Deng’s tragic death.
Baruch responded by immediately revoking the charter of Pi Delta Psi. The school also placed a moratorium on new recruitment across all other social Greek organizations — a decision condemned by many students and alumni when it went into effect in 2014.
Many members of Greek organizations said they felt that they were unfairly targeted by the university administration.
Greek life represented a means to friendship and networking opportunities at a school comprised largely of commuter students, they said.
“If I were an undergrad student, I’d want to see my community thrive. That’s what I strive for. I want to make sure everybody has a seat at the table and was able to give back,” said former Lambda Upsilon Lambda chapter president Daniel Perez during student government forum regarding the end of the Greek life moratorium in December 2017.
The Ticker, Baruch’s student newspaper reported on the event, during which many fraternity and sorority alumni returned to school to defend the organizations.
The recruitment moratorium was again extended in last spring, despite pleas from alumni and segments of the student population.
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost David P. Christy sent an email to staff and students in May, explaining that the extension ensured “the safety, security, and well-being of our student.”
“I feel like we made the best decision we can on behalf of students. Now, the world can change in three years,” Christy told The Ticker. “I think that it is going to change in the direction of more schools having moratoriums or discontinuing affiliation with these groups, because I haven’t seen [social Greek life] change in any dramatic way.”
Editor’s Note: Victoria Merlino is a student at Baruch, the managing editor at The Ticker and a reporter for the Queens Daily Eagle.