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A good reminder for college first-year students: No one needs to die for a good time

Stophazing column by Hank Nuwer

Ending the String of Greek Deaths

Following the death of Gary DeVercelly at Rider University, the Greek community raised money for a scholarship in honor of Gary “Cali” [short for California, his home state] DeVercelly of Phi Tau who died in a 2007 hazing from alcohol poisoning.

At that march which raised $10,000 in DeVercelly’s name, students read a pretty important reminder that said, yes, you need to watch out for one another on campus but also for your own well being.

Here is what each read: “I pledge to serve as my fellow students’ keeper and seek help for myself or others when needed,” the students recited loudly on the front steps of Moore Library, reading from small cards that they were asked to sign and keep in their wallets. Additional vows included, “refrain from abusing alcohol and participating in harmful drinking games” and “insure that neither I nor any of my friends will drive under the influence of alcohol.”

Yesterday I myself attended a minor league baseball game with friends who themselves lost their beloved son, brother and uncle in a Greek hazing incident at a Florida university. They are wonderful people, and I have no doubt their son was a fine young man with unlimited potential. I could not help but wish that their son was seated with them in an empty seat near myself, my wife, and the young man’s mother.

The simple message I have tried to get out to athletes, Greeks and other student club members since my first article on hazing in 1978 is this:

“Everyone should have a great time. You not only should not die for that great time, but you should remember it years later as a great time. The death of a young man such as Cali DeVercelly not only is a horrific loss for his family, the Rider community, and the Greek community as a whole, it is society’s loss as well. What might he have accomplished if given 70 or 80 years to live his dreams? What might my friends’ son have accomplished?

The next four weeks are especially important since rush events and the first days of “pledging” (Or whatever you choose to call it in your group) are here, as well as a time when too many athletic teams think it their “right” to abuse “rookies”. It’s a time for Greek leaders and team captains to put sanity ahead of mindless fun that could break another mother and father’s hearts.

Last year I wrote a column praising Greek Taskforce Leaders, MASH, CHUCK, Stophazing, and Campuspeak for their collective hard work that kept 2006 a hazing-free year. Now an investigation by school and law enforcement in Travis County, Texas brings the sobering and sad news that Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge Tyler Cross died in a fall about the same time he was asked by one or more veteran members to drink and to accept switches with a traditional bamboo switch. Some pledges also said they were subject to shocking with a cattle prod, a particularly odious form of hazing which Texas Greek life fought to outlaw in the 70s and 80s and early 90s.

So 2006 was not a hazing death free year after all, according to the Texas SAE pledge brothers of Tyler Cross. That does not diminish the hard work of all the Greek activists who have done so much to try to keep our young people alive.

The sad truth is that the unbroken string of deaths while pledging or rushing now includes every year from 1970 to 2007. Whether or not law enforcement finds enough culpability to charge anyone in Texas SAE, the fact is that Tyler Cross would still be alive if pledges and members alike followed the True Gentleman program devised by their national.

Maybe Tyler did not object to what he was asked to do, (but that still is no excuse as Theta Chi anti-hazing activist Dave Westol so often has driven home in his talks to Greeks). So this column is meant to drive home the fact that Tyler should have objected, and so should have the wiser student leaders in the SAE chapter and pledge class. I have no doubt Tyler would be alive today and playing lacrosse at UT if his “fellow student keepers” in the Texas SAE chapter had been really and truly True Gentleman that day and watched his back.

My hope is that the 2007-2008 school year is not only great fun for the Greek world, but a time when we do not bury one of our own.

My ending message is to ask Greek students everywhere to read the same pledge that Rider students made before Cali DeVercelli’s death. And not only read it, but believe in every word.

Stay sober. Watch over your friends and don’t let anyone use them for mindless and selfish entertainment masked as an initiation.

You’ll have fun and great times your entire college career as a Greek. And you’ll come back as an alum with each and every safe and sound member of your pledge class to recall those great times in the 50, 60 or 70 more years you have left to enjoy.

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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