Hazing News

Chronicle of Higher Education looks at hazing deaths

Link to article by Lawrence Biemiller and excerpt below


Last year [2017] four fraternity pledges died in what are alleged to have been hazing-related incidents. The young men, aged 18 to 20, all died after drinking heavily at fraternity events — in one case, a ritual named “Bible study.” But while the number of hazing deaths in 2017 was high, it was far from unprecedented. Similar numbers were recorded in 2008, 2012, and 2014.

What makes last year’s hazing deaths unusual, though, is how much publicity they have attracted. That’s particularly true of the horrific death of Timothy Piazza, a Pennsylvania State University sophomore who was a pledge at Beta Theta Pi and whose final hours were captured by the fraternity house’s security cameras and brothers’ Snapchat posts. Intense media attention seems likely to continue as criminal and civil trials resulting from these deaths work their way through the courts.

The big question now is: Will any of this prompt real change? Penn State and other universities where students died — Florida State, Louisiana State, and Texas State — responded to their deaths by imposing a variety of suspensions and new rules on fraternities. But if the usual pattern repeats itself, the institutions will relax their vigils after a few incident-free semesters, and fraternities will slip back into holding alcohol-soaked parties and hazing their pledges. Already Florida State, saying that students are working to “shift the campus culture in the right direction,” has lifted some restrictions on fraternity recruiting.

Hank J. Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College who has written about hazing since 1978, says it’s hard now to imagine ever eradicating the practice, which he says combines the appeal of belonging to an elitist organization with the lure of the forbidden and aspects of cultlike group-think. If you include band, sports-team, and other hazings, there has been at least one death every year since 1961 [now documented since 1959]  in American high schools and colleges, he says.


Can Hazing Be Stopped?

  • The horrific death last year of a Penn State fraternity pledge, captured on security cameras and social media, put hazing in the spotlight — again. But it’s uncertain whether real change will come about as a result.
  • Some institutions, including Penn State, have cracked down on fraternities with new rules and suspensions. But Penn State’s president said in an open letter to the community that he worried that bad behavior would simply go underground.
  • As criminal and civil trials resulting from recent hazing-related deaths work their way through the courts, some parents of victims have joined a crusade to end hazing. Critics of fraternity behavior say parents often perpetuate the problem, by encouraging partying and drinking excessively themselves at Greek-sponsored events for parents.

Hazing dates to the 19th century, Nuwer notes, and by the early 20th, hazing of all of an institution’s freshmen and sophomores was not uncommon. But when he was a student at Buffalo State College in the 1960s, he says, even fraternity hazing was mild by today’s standards: “For us it was scavenger hunts and stealing something from a rival fraternity. The drinking wasn’t a part of it.”

Hazing that is potentially deadly is far more common today, he says. “It’s only a fraction of the cases that come to our attention, when there’s a serious injury, or a parent intervenes, or by chance campus police or an administrator inspect and catch something. Students find that if you lie and put on the aura of respectability, you can do what you want behind closed doors.” (Some sororities also haze new members, but deaths are vanishingly rare.)

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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