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As of this column, that figure is out of date thanks to research performed for my Indiana University Press investigative book, “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” now at the printer for early 2018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.

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.

Hank Nuwer-On Not Judging By Appearances

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.

Can I be the only reader of the Statehouse File taken aback and disappointed upon reading the lead to the October 1 commentary “Trump: the coyote ugly candidate” by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz?

Here it is in case you missed it.

“Back in my college days, it was not uncommon for a guy to have a “coyote ugly” moment. A “coyote ugly” moment is when the guy spent the early part of the evening over-indulging in alcoholic beverages and then spent the night with someone who, shall we say, had questionable physical attributes, or, to put it plainly, she had a face that could make a train take a dirt road. But when your options are limited and it’s the last call, you take what you can get. The problem with that was eventually daylight came and sobriety kicked in and the guy would literally try gnaw his own arm off in order to escape back to the apartment than look his bad decision in the face.”

There is so much wrong here it is hard to know where to start. Having read other pieces by Abdul I know he revels in gigging readers with politically incorrect columns, but perhaps, writing with all due respect, I might convince him to reconsider his views on alcohol and women.

First, my Indiana University Press book titled “Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing and Binge Drinking” is all about the young men who spent a night “over-indulging in alcoholic beverages” and spent their remaining minutes and hours in horrific pain and confusion before emergency-room personnel pronounced them dead. Therefore, I take exception to Abdul’s apparent contention that all college guys at some time and another will find themselves so drunk that all inhibitions and responsibilities will cavalierly fly out the window. Instead, my colleagues and I at Franklin College and on the Hazing Battlefront urge young men under 21 not to drink, and we caution older males that “real men” who do drink need to know it is ok to stop after one or two.

Second, the column does a disservice to young women who don’t have to look much past the latest “Cosmo” magazine to develop insecurities about their appearance. Even the most attractive young women in broadcast journalism and multimedia classes blurt out all the time about how they hate their appearances on camera. My colleagues and I try hard to convince young women and men alike that what is important is what’s inside their heads and not how they look. How is a young woman to feel when she knows a distinguished lawyer like Abdul thinks there are women whose “questionable physical attributes…could make a train take a dirt road”?

Next does Abdul really want to influence and to convince his younger male readers that it is ok to have sex with a young woman starving for a little affection or attention and then dismissing and mocking her after he’s demonstrated his stud status with other hard-drinking young men? To cavalierly joke about gnawing off your arm rather than look a new lover in the face upon sobering up is reprehensible and cruel.

Abdul is trying hard to make a political analogy with his “coyote ugly” references to Donald Trump. They don’t work for me. Like other men reaching their sixth or seventh decade, I had to be educated and convinced that to be a woman was to be equal to a man in every way, and Donald Trump himself has written that many of his female staffers proved to be not only equal but superior to men in the business world.

My life-changing career moment came when co-writing a book on the topic of large-sized women from 1980 to 1982. Part of my job was interviewing plus-size models, singers such as Della Reese, and ordinary housewives and professional women. The interviews were lengthy and, for the interviewees, deeply emotional. They told how issues with weight made them lose job promotions, lose husbands and lovers, and most of all, lose confidence in themselves as people of worth and value.

The book was reviewed favorably by Ms. Magazine, which termed our book a way of looking at “fat as a feminist issue.”

The last thing I want or would do is to make a personal attack on Abdul. So as much as I disagree with his words, it is only his manner of expression that I hope to convince him to change.

But I also hope I’ve convinced any women who were offended by Abdul’s commentary that not all men see women in that way, and/or we have grown up since college and cherish the women who have entered our lives romantically and/our intellectually.

Returning to that book I co-wrote, the most common and crushing thing a large-sized woman could be told is that “she has such a pretty face.” Implicit in that expression is the speaker’s assumption that the rest of her body is unattractive, and if only she would “dump the plump” all of the world would see her as attractive.

Abdul’s comments remind me that people can be so cruel to those they judge alone by appearances.

Hank Nuwer is a professor in the Pulliam School of Journalism.