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The Arrests for the Death of Samuel Mason at Radford University During National Hazing Prevention Week: My Thoughts

Bulletin

A Death at a Radford University Fraternity Accompanies Great Work by So Many Greeks and Athletes.

I have been writing about hazing deaths since 1976, steadily since winning a Gannett  Foundation grant to research the history of such behaviors nearly a quarter-century ago. Nothing in the way of hazing anymore should surprise and shock me–right?

Wrong.

The sad news that police in Virginia have decided a young man with a bright smile and equally bright future was the casualty of alcohol during hazing has especially saddened me.

Why? Because he is dead, of course, and his legacy for his family thus far is a small pile of press clippings that note how the fraternity and members charged with his death had a long, troubled past with alcohol events. His death comes on the heels of another alcohol-related death of a member of a Cornell University fraternity at the hands of pledges–a startling fact at a school whose hazing deaths went clear back to the first in 1873.

But also because this announcement came on the first day of National Hazing Prevention Week–a week that has seen fraternities, sororities, college athletes, former pro athletes and some dedicated parents and alums jump to attention to put on some great hazing awareness programs. The week puts a lovely waving banner on the great work that HazingPrevention.org and Stophazing.org and the NCAA and National Federation of High Schools (among many others) have done for years to create awareness, and I have been honored the two have let me contribute in the limited ways a journalist can contribute–mainly with research.

These words are written hours before boarding a plane to Peoria to work with some great students from Bradley University who have put together a comprehensive, earnest and admirable set of activities for NHPW. I’m honored to be a small part of it.

Though this death of Mr. Samuel Mason is a grim reminder for us all that the collective job of fighting hazing only has just begun, it is a reminder of why we work so hard to keep accurate hazing statistics, to insist on proper research methods connected with hazing surveys and programs, and to put up a collective front against hard-core critics who denounce or ridicule what we do.

Slowly but surely the international fraternities and sororities are tightening the institutional controls that lead to rogue chapters or rogue members suffering the consequences of alcohol misuse and hazing. Some constitutional amendments remain to be written, and these need undergraduate ballot casters at annual voting conventions to come on board.

It is time for me to catch my plane. It is no longer a time for change when it comes to hazing reform.  The news that this Radford death occurred in late 2010 means, according to my verifiable research, that at least one death has occurred annually since 1970 in the United States. This is far from shocking–it is agonizingly despicable evidence that way too many chapters and sports teams just don’t get why hazing is wrong.

All change is past due. Let’s get the job done.  –Hank Nuwer

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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