Hazing News

A Modest Proposal: Death of a Theta Chi at Fresno State Means Deferred Rush Discussion is 100 Percent Needed

Delayed Rush to Judgment by Hank Nuwer


Two weeks ago, Philip Dhanens and 1100 fellow first-year students and their parents enjoyed traditional welcoming ceremonies at Fresno State University.

Upperclassmen and staff assisted with move-ins into housing.

The school’s food service people threw a big barbecue. And the fraternity Theta Chi began courting the new freshman males, hoping to attract new members with their own members’ good looks, nice guy rep and parties.  Those were really all the chapter had going for it, according to one national Greek rating service.

But Theta Chi-Fresno sounded SO good on paper to potential pledges like Philip Dhanens. “Theta Chi is one of the most active and social Greek fraternities at Fresno State,” the chapter’s organization  (website removed after this column published) declared. “We pride ourselves on only accepting intelligent, hardworking men from all backgrounds. We strive to shape our members into stronger individuals who are prepared for life after college.  Community service, brotherhood, and education are the most prominent aspects of our organization nationwide, and are especially emphasized at our chapter.”

Encouraging words.

But in reality, the last Facebook report I could find for the Beta Upsilon chapter of Theta Chi at Fresno State listed a gradepoint average of 2.14. Of course,  the national, local chapter and alumni have been busily removing all links to “Theta Chi-Fresno” so I might have missed something impressive.  But I am excellent at examining cache files, and this chapter is, well, pretty unimpressive to state it bluntly.

Nonetheless, the men of  Beta Upsilon chapter must have decided that Philip Dhanens looked like a good catch in the way of a big man on campus.

In fact, out of 1100 new students, few matched his size.  He was 6’5 and over 325 pounds. He wore #79 and had been a varsity starter at defensive tackle for the Garces (California) Rams that went 4-0 in league play and 11-3 against all comers his senior year.  He was homecoming king at the Junior/Senior prom last spring. He had a new relationship, and his new love consumed his last Facebook post, not his intention to pledge Fresno’s Theta Chi chapter.

No doubt the Fresno State fraternity community might have looked shaky to some of the parents attending that barbecue with their sons it only they had known about another tragedy that occurred in 2006.  The parents would have known about the Danny Daniels horror story.

Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) member Danny Daniels  had not only smacked bottom literally in a fall out a window in October 2005, but he died dead drunk with a 3.4 BAC on January 7, 2006.

The university did NOT impose a lifetime ban. I believe the failure to ban Phi Gamma Delta permanently put blinders on those at Fresno State who haze or serve alcohol to minors—specifically Theta Chi. The University imposed a five-year suspension on Phi Gamma Delta. Here we are with a second alcohol-related death. Will the university give another five-year ban or will it issue a lifetime ban as it should have done following the Danny Daniels’ death.

So where does this bring us? In a couple weeks, the nation will celebrate a national week of education and opposition to hazing (Sept. 24-28>. Fresno State has participated in National Hazing Prevention Week in a big way, with nationally-known speakers and many programs.

I myself was involved that week with one presentation. I believe strongly in hazing education and symposiums to enlighten and BEGIN to change beahvior.

So what can we do?

I propose the week of Sept. 24-September 28th, 2012 be turned over to a week of debate and discussion.

Should YOUR campus have delayed rush for one semester? If so, Philip Dhanens and many, many other pledges or associate members such as Scott Krueger of MIT, 18, and Michael Starks Utah State University, 18, might still be alive.  We’ll never know for sure but that semester of acclimation to campus life, the realization that there are many options, the development of the ability to ask good questions of fraternity men and not be overwhelmed with the rote answers that often confirm hazing is present, the maturity one gains from that first semester…might have made a difference.  And if one young man of the ___ or so who have died since 1970 from alcohol-related hazing would be alive today, that would be enough.

So I have a modest proposal. Want to put on a truly meaningful National Hazing Awareness Week later this month.?

Discuss delaying freshman rush to January 2014–for the Class of 2017.

For years I have resisted the idea of deferred or delayed recruitment of freshmen as too confining.

Not any longer.

Let’s start immediately to NOT start immediately. And we’ll save the likes of Chuck Stenzel (Alfred) and Ben Wynne (LSU)  and Philip Dhanens (Fresno State).

While I oppose restrictions on recruitment of first semester freshmen as someone who had a good fraternity experience, I see no other option.

Given this death, and many previous deaths, the time is now to make this change.  We go through the same sad cycle each year.  Fraternity men across the nation talk about values and virtues and friendship…and more freshmen die because the members forget or ignore a simple truth:  There is a significant difference between talk and action.

And that simple concept was exemplified by two members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon who were interviewed for a news story about the death of Philip Dhanens at Cornell.  They declined to identify themselves for the reporter but one said that “All fraternity houses would be under suspicion” and followed that with, “Fraternities always get the worst of it”  Our response is that Philip Dhanens received “the worst of it” and that the reason fraternities are singled out is simple.  Fraternities promise one thing–values, ideals, positive experiences–and in cases like this….deliver quite another.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; 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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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