Fraternity hazing stories are legendary for their outrageous silliness and, unfortunately, their sometimes tragic outcomes. Pledges are sometimes required to consume large quantities of alcohol, do embarrassing and humiliating things in public, face harsh deprivations, weather inclemency, or paddle beatings.
This topic is of interest to me now that my own kid is off to college this year. And he wants to join a fraternity. Am I worried about hazing? You bet.
I don't have too look far to find stories that make me lose sleep. Cornell University, right down the road from my office in Auburn, New York, has had its share of hazing tragedies. In 2011, for example, some pledges were blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles. They were then driven to a town house somewhere on campus where they were drilled with Fraternity's history trivia questions. A wrong answer triggered forced shots of vodka. One of the pledges - who seems to have been a poor Fraternity historian -- passed out, was loaded into the back seat of a car, and brought back to the Frat house where he was dumped on a couch to "sleep it off". The next morning the cleaning crew found him dead, choked on his own vomit.
I could tell dozens of similar stories. For example, in one high-profile case, which was again recently in the news for the criminal sentencing of one of the hazers, a drum major in Florida A&M's Marching 100 was beaten to death during a hazing on the band bus.
Hazing is common on American campuses. Several studies have found that approximately 55 percent of students who join fraternities, sororities, sports teams or other student groups experience hazing. Injury and death from hazing are not an every day experience, but they are not uncommon either. There have been over hazing 115 deaths since 1970.
Why do fraternities haze? As long as there have been human societies, there have been initiation rites. Something deep inside our human psych seems to require groups to impose suffering on would-be members. Somehow, the collective suffering of the newbies acts as group bonding glue.
The Greek system is part of college history. Like all histories, it is brimming with the good, the bad and the ugly. While Greek life has served as fertile ground for friendship and leadership development, it has historically also fostered racism, sexism and violence.
And of course hazing incidents spur personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Fraternity hazing cases pose complex legal hurdles. There is usually a broad net of blame to cast. The college is often faulted for turning a blind eye to fraternity excesses. The national fraternity chapters are signaled out for failing to properly supervise their local chapters. The fraternity brothers involved in the hazing are often held not only liable in civil lawsuits, but are tried criminally on manslaughter or criminal negligence charges. And the finger of blame points toward the victim as well for having voluntarily participated in the hazing activities.
My kid is dead-set on joining a fraternity. All I can do is tell him my concerns, and hope and pray he does the right thing, both as a pledge and later as a fraternity brother. It takes a lot of self-confidence to resist peer pressure when pledging activities cross that fine line between fun and danger. May he make good, lifelong friends and memories. But may he also make safe, smart decisions.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I'd love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.