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Buffalo News reporter gains insight from parents on death of their son

Moderator:  Once again, a hazing tragedy was caused by a bottle exchange between a pledge and a senior member.  If this one custom could be abandoned, we would save so many lives. Link to an outstanding article, but very sad.  Excerpt:

Growing up in Amherst, Nolan M. Burch seemed to make friends everywhere – in the Briarhurst Park neighborhood where he lived, in local hockey and baseball leagues, and at Canisius High School.

So when the gregarious 17-year-old with the mop of dark hair and giggly laugh told his parents he was joining a fraternity at West Virginia University, they figured it was just a new way for him to make even more friends on the large, hilly campus overlooking the Monongahela River.

“I just thought it was another thing he was joining … another thing he wanted to be a part of, like hockey or baseball or whatever,” said his mother, Kim Burch. “I didn’t think anything of it.”

Nolan’s father, Theron J. “TJ” Burch, said it “seemed like a regular part of college life.”

It’s hard for the Burches not to have a dim view of fraternities now. A year ago their son died of heart failure stemming from extreme intoxication, following a boozy initiation ceremony for pledges seeking membership into Kappa Sigma fraternity. Since his death, the Burches have launched a foundation in their son’s memory and sued the university and the fraternity. Inside the living room of their Amherst split-level home this week, they shared intimate details about Nolan’s young life and revisited the events surrounding his tragic death in Morgantown, W.Va. They point to the collage of class pictures of Nolan, from kindergarten through his senior year of high school, and to the seat in the dining room where Nolan would study for a big exam, sometimes until 11 p.m., still wearing the tie required at Canisius.

TJ Burch described the loss of his son as an inexplicable numbness and sadness “that’s always there.”

“We want him to be remembered, that’s one part of it,” he said. “But we don’t want anyone else to go through this.”

Dangerous rituals

Nolan’s death was one of at least seven hazing-related deaths across the country in 2014, according to Hank Nuwer, who teaches journalism at Franklin College in Indiana and has chronicled hazing incidents for years.

Nuwer’s website lists 210 hazing-related deaths, mostly on college campuses and mostly involving fraternities, dating back to 1838.

Some of the deaths sparked major reforms in how colleges, universities and Greek organizations handle hazing. But while national awareness of the dangers of hazing has grown, alcohol-fueled initiation ceremonies persist on many campuses.

“There’s a craving among young people for these rites of passage,” said Nuwer, a Buffalo native and graduate of SUNY Buffalo State who has written four books on hazing.

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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