State leaders pursuing anti-hazing laws after reported incidents at NMSU, ENMU

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is one of just six states that doesn’t currently have anti-hazing laws. State leaders are hoping to change that in 2024. 

“I – along with my administration – have ZERO tolerance for abuse of any kind, and I will root out cultures of hazing and abuse at every higher education institution in New Mexico,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a statement Friday. “In the next legislative session, I will be putting anti-hazing and abuse legislation on the call, making it unequivocal in state law that hazing is a crime and those who do harm to others will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”  

The governor’s announcement comes just days after former basketball players at New Mexico State University and Eastern New Mexico University filed lawsuits detailing alleged abuse while on the team. 

The New Mexico State players claim they were sexually assaulted by other players multiple times throughout the previous season. Their lawsuit alleges coaches knew about the reported harassment and did nothing to stop it. The two players behind the lawsuit spoke out for the first time Wednesday

The Eastern New Mexico players claim their coach forced them to attend “treatments” with her husband who reportedly sexually assaulted the players. Like the NMSU lawsuit, the players claim university leaders knew about the alleged abuse and did nothing to stop it.  

Both alleged incidents and subsequent investigations are being tracked by the state’s Higher Education Department. 

“If we’re hearing it happen at two universities, I can almost guarantee it’s probably happening in other programs within those institutions or other institutions as well,” said Secretary of Higher Education, Stephanie Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez says her department sent letters to both universities demanding independent investigations into the allegations. She credited New Mexico State University leaders for cooperating with the process, and says ENMU leaders have not yet reached the department’s deadline to respond.

Rodriguez says her department is fully behind efforts to establish anti-hazing laws in New Mexico. 

“We’re hearing from students that we need more to protect them on their campuses and ensure that they feel comfortable all of the time,” she said. 

It’s not clear what New Mexico’s anti-hazing law could look like. Rodriguez says it will likely include the creation of a state hotline where students can more easily report hazing, and abuse incidents without fear of retaliation. 

One hazing researcher suggests the governor’s announcement is following a nationwide trend. 

“I think we are seeing increased awareness about the potential harm from hazing and therefore, I think we’re seeing more interest in prevention,” said Elizabeth Allan, a professor of higher education at the University of Maine.

Allan has spent nearly two decades researching hazing among college and high school students.

“Hazing isn’t just about antics, and pranks and jokes, and boys will be boys, it’s a form of abuse, and can cross the line into violence as well,” said Allan.  

Allan says anti-hazing laws across the country come in different forms. She says the most impactful legislation typically includes increased mandates for transparency and reporting. 

“It’s a consumer protection approach,” she said. “So that students and their parents can know if there is a pattern of hazing that has occurred with any kind of club team, or organization that their student may be considering joining.” 

Allan says many colleges and universities have already increased reporting requirements; however, she says much more work is needed to prevent hazing on a larger scale. 

“A lot of education-related to bullying has helped people to understand the power dynamics that are involved in hazing,” she said. “We can really improve by helping people to recognize hazing earlier and intervene, and then we’re more likely to prevent it in the long run.” 

More information about efforts to reduce hazing can be found here