Putting a Face to the Dismal Hazing Headlines
Pledging a fraternity or sorority in college can be an exciting time for students. New members are often looking for companionship, social engagement, scholarships, and leadership opportunities that could have a long-lasting impact on their life after graduation. But what happens when their organization is not all it's cracked up to be?
According to a study by the University of Maine, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations, or approximately 250,000 people, experience hazing. Of these cases, 95 percent go unreported.
Researchers from the study define hazing as,
"Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person's willingness to participate"
Hazing can be physical or psychological and can occur within any organization, but is most prominent with varsity athletic teams and greek organizations. Some examples of hazing include:
Forced alcohol or food consumption
Being forced to wear unusual or distasteful clothing
Beating or paddling
Forced physical activity/calisthenics
According to Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor from Franklin College and hazing expert, there have been over 200 hazing-related deaths in the United States since 1838, 40 of which have occurred in the last decade alone.
Some of these victims include Tucker Hipps from South Carolina, Timothy Piazza from Pennsylvania, and Maxwell Gruver from Louisiana.
19-year old South Carolina native, Tucker Hipps, was in his sophomore year at Clemson University when he decided to pledge Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. However, his new member experience ended in tragedy when law enforcement found his lifeless body in Lake Hartwell near the S.C. 93 bridge in Sept. 2014. He was found hours after going on a run with about 30 other members of the fraternity.
Fraternity brothers called police hours after the morning accident. There are conflicting reports as to what really happened on the bridge that day. One witness claims Hipps was forced to walk along the narrow railing and slipped, plummeting head-first into the shallow water. Others reported a confrontation between fraternity member Robert Carter King and Hipps due to the pledge's failure to bring breakfast as he had previously been instructed, leading to Hipps "falling" over the bridge into the lake.
The autopsy report states Hipps died of head injuries consistent with having hit rip-rap rocks in the shallow water near the end of the bridge. The national fraternity responded to the allegations of wrongful death filed by the Hipps family that he "voluntarily jumped into the water" and his death resulted from his own "negligence." The national organization has also filed a motion to dismiss the case against the chapter since it was dissolved by the time the lawsuit was filed.
Since his death, the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act was passed by the South Carolina General Assembly on June 2, 2016. The act states that public institutions of higher learning, excluding technical colleges, shall maintain reports of actual findings of certain misconduct by members of fraternities and sororities formally associated with the institution. The reports should be made available online for all so that current and potential members of the greek community, their parents and any other interested parties may be aware of any violations.
Timothy Piazza, a Beta Theta Pi pledge at Penn State University, was given at least 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes during a Feb. 2017 pledging event called "The Gauntlet." According to surveillance footage, Piazza fell multiple times, tumbling down a flight of stairs near the end of the night, and suffered traumatic injuries that led to his death two days later.
First responders were not called until 12 hours after his injuries occurred. Penn State shut down the chapter permanently after his death and the Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity suspended the group.
One year after Piazza's death, his mother Evelyn said, "It doesn't get better. It hurts just as much now as it did a year ago."
Since their son's death, the Piazza family has been at the forefront of the anti-hazing movement. “We didn’t have a choice, but now we really feel obligated to speak out and make sure this doesn’t happen again so that Tim saves lives,” Evelyn Piazza said. “Clearly, this situation has put us into a spot where we have to carry this burden and we have to see it through.”
The Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act, or REACH Act, has been proposed as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill is similar to the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act in that it requires incidents of hazing to be reported as part of a college’s annual crime report. It has yet to be passed by the House of Representatives since first being introduced in June of 2017. The piece of legislation would create tiers of hazing offenses to help determine proper punishment.
Hazing could be considered a third-degree misdemeanor if the incident resulted in bodily harm or a third-degree felony if severe bodily injuries or death occurs. Under current law, prosecutors can only charge defendants with second-degree misdemeanors.
Additionally, the bill includes amnesty provision, which would protect anyone who calls for emergency assistance to help a victim from criminal prosecution of hazing or underage drinking.
"Bible Study" takes on a whole new meaning when you step into the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house at Louisiana State University (LSU). 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver was one month into his first year of college when he attended an initiation ceremony where he was doused in a mixture of hot sauce and mustard, and was forced to drink 190-proof liquor while reciting the Greek alphabet. This hazing ritual was dubbed "Bible Study," but there is nothing holy about it.
Gruver was found dead the next morning. The autopsy report says his death was due to acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration. His blood alcohol level was 0.495 – more than six times the legal limit to drive.
Since then, the “Max Gruver Act” has been proposed and was passed unanimously by a house vote of 87-0 and now awaits the Senate’s consideration. The act would upgrade hazing from a misdemeanor to attempt to stop the worst abuses. Bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Landry said the bill would make it “very clear for a student to understand that hazing is against the law, know what hazing is, and know that it is a crime now.”
Those who are convicted in cases of hazing-related deaths could receive up to five years in prison, as well as fines up to $10,000.
Currently, Louisiana laws allow those guilty of hazing to receive a fine between $10 and $100 and serve a maximum of 30 days in jail.
An East Baton Rouge grand jury indicted one of the fraternity members for negligent homicide, and three others on misdemeanor hazing charges. All four are no longer students at LSU.
For more information, visit the Hazing Prevention website here.