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.

Laws, Organizations Seek to Address the Issue
The 2011 Florida A&M marching band hazing death, however, may have changed forever the tendency of courts to hand out slaps on the wrists. In the wake of the beating death of drum major Robert Champion on a squad bus, hazing ringleader Dante Martin, 27, was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter and could have drawn as much as a 22-year sentencing under Florida’s tough Chad Meredith Act, a law signed in 2005 by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Meredith was a University of Miami fraternity pledge who drowned in a lake during a hazing ritual, and his parents successfully lobbied to get the then-weak Florida law toughened. Florida is one of 44 states that currently have a hazing law, and the Sunshine State’s is by far the harshest, allowing a prosecutor to take a hazer to court for both criminal hazing and manslaughter. [In late June, three more FAMU defendants found guilty in the Robert Champion case will be sentenced].

Among the recommendations drawn up by 32 NCSI, perhaps the most significant is the procedure, adopted by few colleges today, to publish an online record of fraternities and sororities with hazing violations. Douglas Fierberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney specializing in suing fraternities and individuals in cases of death or serious injury, has been the most vocal in insisting that publishing all incidents of hazing can help parents make informed decisions when a son or daughter elects to pledge at a Greek organization. With Fierberg’s help, Julia and Scott Starkey persuaded California Polytechnic State University to publish all hazing group convictions on its web page following the alcohol death of their son Carson Starkey.

In addition, 32 NCSI wants all colleges to offer students written hazing enforcement procedures that spell out how administrators will respond to verifiable reports of campus hazing. The organization recommends that institutions provide annual educational programs on hazing. For example, many college campuses bring in speakers every September during National Hazing Prevention Week. This type of approach is advocated by such anti-hazing activist groups as Stophazing.org, HazingPrevention.org and the Antihazing Awareness Movement.

Other 32 NCSI recommendations deal with reporting and communicating procedures.  These include:

  • An anonymous reporting system
  • Training students, faculty and staff on how to report hazing incidents
  • Banning alumni found to have encouraged hazing from campus
  • Clear-cut enforced sanctions for hazing ranging from a written warning up to expulsion and referral for prosecution.

Secrecy Surrounding Hazing Thwarts Investigations
To be sure, hazing often occurs behind closed doors in utter secrecy, making it difficult for police to build a successful case.

After police in South Carolina interviewed many Sigma Phi Epsilon members from Clemson University following the death of pledge Tucker Hipps who fell off a bridge while on a forbidden early-morning run, police said they could not get an accurate picture of what had led to the tragedy since fraternity members had stonewalled the investigation. The parents of Hipps launched a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity in hopes of getting answers. Thus far, all they know for certain is that their son angered older members by refusing to bring them breakfast the morning he died.

The guidelines recommended by 32 NCSI would do much to lift the veil of secrecy that often accompanies hazing and address the dangers of hazing overall, thus better protecting every member of a campus community.

Hank Nuwer is a professor of journalism at Franklin College and a 32 NCSI Hazing expert. In June of 2015, 32 NCSI, sponsored by the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, an activist organization formed after family members lost their beloved children in the notorious 2007 Virginia Tech school shooting, is releasing “Hazing Indicators” that all colleges can use as a checklist to see how well their anti-hazing policies and procedures
stack up.  The intent is to help institutions develop a “Best Practices” checklist to eradicate hazing in all collegiate groups. For more information, visit www.32NCSI.org or www.VTVFamilyFoundation.org.

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