Drinking and hazing focus at school start
Case of administrators charged in student death grabs attention of officials at colleges, universities.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
By SARAH CASSI
EASTON | As students flood colleges and universities, administrators and advisers are reviewing and reiterating hazing and drinking policies in the wake of a Rider University court case.
Three students, the dean of students and the director of Greek life were indicted earlier this month on a charge of fourth-degree aggravated hazing in the death of freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr. The two administrators have pleaded not guilty.
DeVercelly, 18, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.43 percent when he was pronounced dead March 30 at a Trenton hospital, according to The Associated Press. DeVercelly died one day after drinking at a party at the Phi Kappa Tau house, a social fraternity on the Lawrenceville, N.J., campus.
“It’s a hot-button issue, in particular for fraternity and sorority advisers,” said Chris Jachimowicz, director of Greek affairs at Muhlenberg College. “It has the potential to change the relationship or the desire for colleges and universities to have Greek organizations.”
Jachimowicz said the key to the case is how the prosecutor is going to link the advisers to the fraternity event even though they weren’t present at the event.
“It’s a wait-and-see situation,” Jachimowicz said.
John Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs with Lehigh University, said officials are concerned about what the Rider case may mean for staff.
“But we’re primarily concerned about the welfare and safety of our students,” Smeaton said.
Most schools have hazing policies outlining prohibited behavior.
Lafayette College spokeswoman Kristine Todaro said the school takes a three-pronged approach to handling hazing: educating students about the health and effects of drinking, campus rules and state laws.
“We’re not doing anything new in light of this case,” Todaro said.
Lehigh University has a medical amnesty policy in which students can seek emergency medical attention for alcohol or illegal drugs and not violate the university’s code of conduct. The policy does not grant amnesty from the legal consequences of consuming alcohol or drugs, however.
Centenary College does not have national fraternities or sororities, or houses, said Bryon Grigsby, the college’s provost and chief operating officer.
Grigsby said the college reviewed its safety policies and procedures in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. Changes included bringing campus security in-house.
The college has a “three strikes” policy for drinking offenses that involves alcohol counseling, fines and community service. On the second offense, the bill payer is informed of offenses. On the third offense, the student loses college housing.
“We feel we have a very strong policy against drinking,” Grigsby said.
Rider dissolved the campus’ Phi Kappa Tau chapter but has 14 other social fraternities and sororities, in addition to the honorary/academic Greek organizations, according to the university’s Web site. Jachimowicz said Rider is hiring live-in consultants to be placed within certain fraternities and sororities.
Jachimowicz said part of the problem is students and even families report hazing but don’t want to be identified.
“In the three and a half years I’ve been here, every report of hazing has been filed anonymously,” Jachimowicz said. “I’ve even gotten phone calls from parents refusing to say who they are.”
The Association of Fraternity Advisors has received numerous inquiries regarding the Rider University case, and it’s a topic on the association’s online forum, said Linda A. Wardhammar, the association’s executive director.
Wardhammar said members are discussing possible repercussions with supervisors, talking with student leaders and reviewing policies and procedures.
“We’re waiting to see what happens to know really what it all means for our practice and what we do if we’re vulnerable,” Wardhammar said.