Hazing, the weed in the Garden of Eden that suffocates us all

The following post for StopHazing was written by author and anti-hazing activist Hank Nuwer. For more information on Hank, check out his website at www.hanknuwer.com.

While colleges across the country are finding creative ways to celebrate National Hazing Prevention Week Sept. 18-22, I’ve managed considerable progress on my goal to create a database of every hazing incident reported in the media from colonial days to the present.

The present database has come a long way from the database I published in my 1990 book, “Broken Pledges,” using Lexis-Nexis data. Up to now, most major media outlets have cited my database of hazing deaths that showed the U.S. experienced at least one hazing death per year 1969 to 2017.

As of this column, that figure is out of date thanks to research performed for my Indiana University Press investigative book, “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” now at the printer for early 2018 publication, as well as research for yet another hazing book begun with a small seed- money grant generously provided by Franklin College.

The new database at http://www.hanknuwer.com now shows one death per year in U.S. colleges, secondary and elementary schools from 1961 to 2017. Think of 1961. JFK was inaugurated. Cuba’s Castro was cuddling with the Soviet Union. The Beatles were the mop-top rage of Liverpool.

Some years many deaths occurred, not just one. If Canada is included, the death figure is one per year from 1959 to 2017. Although there were no U.S. deaths recorded in 1958, there was an annual death from 1954 to 1957.

In addition, I counted a relatively small, though disturbing, number of hazing deaths over the years in Boy Scouts, Masonic organizations, the Knights of Columbus, and the U.S. Armed Forces. The story of how Benjamin Franklin in 1737 momentarily tarnished his reputation by failing to stop a dangerous hazing prank is the first incident in this database.

Behind every death is a family torn apart by the loss of a loved one who was strangled by alcohol, beaten to death, struck by a car while blindfolded, drowned, and so on. The first fraternity death, that of Mortimer Leggett, son of a famed Civil War general with the same name, occurred at spanking new Cornell University in 1873. Young Leggett felloff a cliff on a required midnight walkabout while wearing a blindfold in gorge country.

Then there is the proctor who got sick and tired of being hazed at Swarthmore College and grabbed a flashlight and rifle to slay one tormentor as he slept. The hazer escaped the electric chair with an insanity plea.

There was the recent death of Clemson pledge Tucker Hipps. Hipps died when he fell from a bridge at Lake Hartwell. His was the second Clemson fraternity death at that lake. No reporter, including me, reported that fact until a new keyword search came up with another tragedy at Clemson in 1961—the first year of what would become 56 consecutive years with a hazing death.

Stashed among thousands of news clippings about hazing are earnest appeals from educators, grieving parents, activists and earnest students to do away with this “weed in the garden of academe” as one pundit called it in an 1860 speech at Harvard.

But the problems of hazing in 1860 are the same now, but the perpetrators are a lot more careful to hide their tracks, to lie or to stonewall investigators, and to intimidate anyone threatening to come forward with the truth.

Dead ahead is a trial of more than a dozen Penn State Beta Theta Pi members. They urged pledge Tim Piazza to swallow enough booze to kill him in a fall, and they left him either unattended or abused him as he lay dying.

Just in the last week we’ve seen Louisiana State University student Max Gruver, a pledge for Phi Delta Theta, a staunch advocate for dry houses, die from an overdose. Local police are scrambling to find out what happened to him, but the members have clammed up tight as oysters and are talking only to defense lawyers.

The database shows three fraternity hazing deaths at LSU before Gruver.

I’ve met dozens of the hazed and hazers alike, the families of the dead, the dedicated Greek professionals, a lot of jaded alums, and activists from HazingPrevention.org, Stophazing,org, the AHA Movement and so on. Many parents who gave years of service to the cause have quit, so disillusioned by the continuing string of deaths that they no longer can even utter the word “hazing.”

Everything possible has been tried. Bystander training. Help Weeks instead of Hell Weeks. Associate memberships instead of pledges. Delayed rush. Yanking charters.

But still the deaths continue. I want to assure you there will be no more dangerous hazing when my friend John’s son goes to college in a year or, closer to home, my grandson in a couple more years.

But I can’t.

My list of deaths gets longer, longer and still longer.

Stopping hazing is easy, I tell students. “Just don’t do it.”

But too many don’t listen.

Hank Nuwer is a Franklin College journalism professor and the author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” “The Hazing Reader,” “Wrongs of Passage” and many other books.

Can You Help Pass the REACH Act Targeting Hazing on College Campuses?

Last week, Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) hosted a press conference to build support for the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act. Video from the event-which featured lawmakers, victims of hazing, and other stakeholders-can be viewed below:

Catalyzed, in part, by the tragic death of Timothy Piazza, who died in a hazing incident at Penn State University in February, the REACH Act seeks to ensure accountability, transparency, and education to transform how hazing incidents are tracked and prevented at postsecondary institutions in the United States. The act would require colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to 1) include incidents of hazing in their annual security report, as mandated by the Clery Act; and 2) implement hazing education programs.

Such measures are needed because hazing occurs across a range of student organizations and 55% of college students participating in groups, organizations, and teams experience hazing with documented outcomes such as physical harm, emotional trauma, and, at times, death. Julie and Gary DeVercelly, who lost their son Gary DeVercelly, Jr. to hazing in 2007, spoke at the REACH Act press conference citing 40 hazing deaths since 2007. As Gary stated at the event, “the circumstances of their deaths are disturbingly similar. Gary’s death, like Timothy’s, was the focus of national attention and it prompted calls to stop hazing. But eventually the national attention moved on and nothing was changed.”

The REACH Act is endorsed by the Clery Center, Lugar Center, Penn State University, StopHazing, HazingPrevention.Org, Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, and all national fraternity and sorority umbrella organizations, which together represent over 140 fraternities and sororities across the United States. Further support for the bill, however, is needed to ensure it is passed and meaningful progress to track and prevent hazing on college campuses is made. If you are involved with a national organization connected to higher education or a college or university, we encourage you to send this information along to your organizational leadership and ask if they would consider supporting and endorsing the REACH Act.

If you have any questions or would like to be added as a cosponsor please contact quin.roberts@mail.house.gov with Rep. Patrick Meehan at 202.225.2511 or clifton.williams@mail.house.gov with Rep. Marcia Fudge at 202.225.7032.

Even after death of Kappa Sigma pledge, Nolan Burch, WVU’s Fiji chapter hazes, according to a university press release

mn7njw6ir0u0rtfjz1laThe following post for StopHazing was written by author and anti-hazing activist Hank Nuwer. For more information on Hank, check out his website at www.hanknuwer.com.

It has been my honor and privilege over the years to have worked with many, many great Directors of Greek Life and also individual chapter advisers.  One of the leaders I have known the longest is Roy Baker who has served with distinction all his career at Bucknell, Syracuse and Penn State–all three where I have lectured on hazing prevention. In my estimation, he is all an administrator would want in a leader: tough, fair, consistent and concerned for the growth, safety and well being of his students.

He sent me once a letter after one of my talks in which he said a sorority saved the life of a member by calling 911 a couple days after my talk. A member told him my talk had inspired the women to face trouble and call for help rather than delay and possibly lose one of their own.  It is one of the letters I most treasure in my own career that began in the 1970s.

On November 1, Dr. Baker began his duties and West Virginia University. I had dropped him a note to congratulate him. Now, according to a news story, it looks as if the Fiji chapter at WVU cavalierly has decided to test boundaries with the new director. According to local TV reports, “Christopher Grace, 21, of Arlington, Virginia was found Wednesday at about 11:30 a.m. bound with duct tape. Investigators say the victim and fraternity members showed minor injuries from an altercation. And, according to police, Grace was being shoved in the trunk of a car.”

Big mistake. West Virginia is already reeling from the death of Kappa Sigma pledge Nolan Burch, a young man who grew up in a Buffalo, NY suburb not far from where I was born and reared. And the subject of my 1990 book “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing” was Klan Alpine pledge Chuck Stenzel, son of well-known hazing activist Eileen Stevens, who died at the Alfred University following an incident in which members kidnaped him, stuffed him in a car trunk, and coerced him into drinking a lethal amount of alcohol. (Klan Alpine was abolished at Alfred University, and now AU is known for its published research on hazing conducted by another old friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Norm Pollard).

A similar kidnaping and car stuffing years ago nearly claimed the life of a University of Michigan hockey rookie who fortunately was hospitalized just in time. So, this “prank” is more than a prank. It is a bonafide hazing incident, and I have no doubt PhI Gamma Delta’s national will also lower the boom on its WVU chapter for this stupid stunt.

If the news article is correct, the offending chapter soon will learn that its old ways now are its past ways.

The article says this:

 “One of our plans will be to make sure that students at the university, parents at this university, know before they join a fraternity or sorority, if that chapter had been involved in issues whether it be hazing, alcohol education, sexual assault, any of those types of things,” he said.

“Baker says the university has a lot of work to do, and they will use Wednesday’s incident as a learning tool to prevent future problems.”

You can take Dr. Baker’s word that this is so.

Baruch College Hazing

ColinThe following post was written by Colin Schlank, StopHazing Social Media Intern. Colin is a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut. 

In December 2013, Chun ‘Michael’ Deng passed away, the result of a fraternity hazing ritual. During a weekend retreat to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, brothers from
the chapter blindfolded Deng and ordered him to wear a heavy backpack filled with sand. They instructed him and his pledge class to carry it across a snowy field at a fraternity house, while brutally tackling him. The brothers delayed seeking medical assistance, and he died soon after.

Just a few weeks ago, a grand jury indicted over three-dozen of the fraternity members with crimes relating to Deng’s death. Many of these individuals face charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, and hazing. In addition, various brothers, as well as the
president of the national fraternity at the time, are accused of trying to cover-up the crime. This decision to prosecute represents a landmark case in holding fraternities accountable 15-michael-deng.w529.h529for their actions. It is no secret that many Greek organizations, as well as various other groups, face major issues relating to hazing. However, as the media continues to release new stories, solutions to these problems seem even more uncertain.

From my perspective, holding individuals and organizations accountable is the first step towards invoking meaningful change. It is essential that students, professionals, and other stakeholders in educational institutions take immediate action to eliminate hazing and other harmful behaviors.