The family and friends of Sam Martinez remember him for his warmth, sense of humor, loyalty and love of sports.
Two years after the Washington State University freshman and Alpha Tau Omega pledge died in a hazing-related incident, his family is supporting two bills they hope will protect other students from the same fate.
On Thursday, Washington state legislators heard initial testimony for the first of those bills, House Bill 1751. If enacted, it would increase transparency about hazing and related incidents at colleges and universities, and require institutions of higher education to provide education and prevention training for staff, students and parents.
“(Sam) was the kind of guy who loved to be with other people and do community projects,” said Martinez’s father, Hector Martinez, during remote public testimony. “If I only had known then what I know now, my Samito would be alive.”
The bill would require local chapters of fraternities and sororities to maintain a record on their website of all findings of hazing and related violations within the past five years. It would also require the university to maintain reports of hazing on their website for five years.
Hector Martinez said he was “blinded” by the idea of Sam having a brotherhood and serving his community. He and his wife, Jolayne Houtz, later found out that ATO’s Pullman chapter had previous problems with hazing before Sam joined, in addition to hazing cases at chapters throughout the country.
“The transparency piece for us is so critical,” Houtz said in an interview. “Parents and students need accurate information in order to make smart decisions. In this case, Alpha Tau Omega and Washington State University both knew this was a deeply troubled chapter. And our family paid a terrible price for that lack of transparency.”
One of the speakers at the hearing, Kathleen Wiant, is the mother of Collin Wiant, who died in 2018 from hazing at his fraternity, Sigma Pi.
Wiant told legislators that when her son decided to join Sigma Pi, she immediately looked them up but found nothing concerning.
Had the proposed bill been law in her state, she would have found out that just a year before, the fraternity sent a pledge to the emergency room with a gash on his head. If things were different, she believes Collin would still be alive.
The families who have lost children to hazing have formed a community, Houtz said. Over and over, the same theme emerges.
“They say, ‘If we’d had the information — we would not have lost our child if we had just known.’ And so I think that’s a pattern that you see frequently and really informs a lot of our work,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges the bill faces is the short 60-day legislative session, and working with institutions of higher education on how to implement the bill.
“I don’t think we can afford to wait,” Houtz said. “I worry that we’re gonna lose more kids, if we don’t act.”
Though all public testimony was in favor of the legislation, some representatives for universities and colleges requested adjustments to language in their testimony.
Some requests included not posting ongoing investigations on the university website, and requesting language that would exempt some employees from hazing reporting requirements in the bill to allow students to have confidential conversations with certain exempt individuals.
This report is made possible by the Lewis-Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation in partnership with Northwest Public Broadcasting, the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.