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Putting an End to Hazing Deaths

Publishing an online list of Greek organizations with hazing violations, clear-cut sanctions, anonymous reporting and training are just some of the ways campuses can address hazing at colleges and universities.

There have been more than 170 hazing deaths in collegiate fraternities, sororities, a band, ROTC and sports teams all told. A survey of large and small public and private institutions conducted by University of Maine researchers Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden found that around half of all students in fraternities, clubs, teams and other organizations reported that they had been hazed.

Among the hazing practices uncovered by the researchers were forced or coerced drinking, physical abuse, screaming in so-called lineups, being abandoned in the countryside, nudity, improper touching, paddling and beatings. Deaths at Chico State University and Plattsburgh State University were caused by pledges being forced to drink many gallons of water, an act that severely upset the body chemistry of Matt Carrington and Walter Dean Jennings, the dead pledges.

The 32 National Campus Safety Initiative (32 NCSI) defines hazing as any activity expected of someone joining a group that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

Significantly, punishments for criminal hazing have been historically mild, and in many cases, defendants get no jail time or a very small fine and community service at most. Male fraternities have by far been the most deadly of all groups that haze. To put it into perspective, according to my research, there has been at least one hazing death on a college campus every year from 1970 to 2015.

Press Putting Spotlight on Hazing Fatalities
Hazing deaths typically receive wide attention in media reports. Some of the more notorious cases in recent years demonstrate the wide range of behaviors that have led to campus fatalities.

In 2014, Pi Kappa Phi pledge Armando Villa of California State University Northridge was abandoned barefooted in the Angeles Mountains and died of dehydration and his injuries. Coincidentally, he was the second pledge to die in that same general area. Years earlier, a Pierce College Chi Chi Chi member died in a fall when abandoned there without his prescription glasses.

In 2013, fraternity pledge Mike Deng of Baruch College’s Pi Delta Psi died when body slammed by up to 30 senior members who had been drinking. He was blindfolded when members attacked him, and they waited more than an hour before calling 9-1-1 to get him aid. Although police investigated, no charges have been levied as of May 2015. Similar beating deaths have taken the lives of pledges Harrison Kowiak at Lenoir-Rhyne, Kenny Luong at UC Irvine and J. B. Joynt at Frostburg State University.

In a number of cases, reverse hazing in which pledges haze members to show solidarity have also resulted in deaths. Most recently, George Desdunes perished at Cornell University with a blood alcohol content of .35 when pledges coerced him into drinking shots. Once again, the punishment imposed on the fraternity was light. A judge fined the chapter $12,000 for hazing and other charges.

Sororities also have incurred deaths. Eastern Illinois University sorority member Donna Bedinger died while trying to get inside a moving car after pledges had abandoned her in the country. University of Colorado Kappa Alpha Theta pledge Sherri Ann Clark died of alcohol poisoning in 1985, and at the time, school and sorority officials refused to call the death a form of hazing. Plymouth State University pledge Kelly Nester died in a car accident when she and other pledges were being driven around in a car, and again, an attorney for the sorority members denied that hazing had occurred. Other sorority deaths have occurred in accidents due to sleep deprivation and drowning.

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