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Hazing News

Commentary published in LSU student newspaper

Opinion: University should suspend all Student Orgs, Greek Life, following latest incident

After facing the losses of Ms. Joyce McKnight, Dr. Martin Johnson and senior Andre Navarre earlier this semester, our community was not prepared for another tragedy — yet we faced another devastating loss on Monday, Oct. 19, when news broke about the death of another LSU student.

Though details remain sparse, what we know is that the tragic and sudden loss of life is somehow connected to the hospitalization of another student, a freshmen fraternity pledge and the ongoing hazing investigation of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. So far, the story has been covered by several news agencies, including the Advocatethe Washington Post and the College Post.

After the 2017 death of freshman Max Gruver, the University promised to do better. In 2018 the Max Gruver Act was passed, and in 2019 LSU added a “Hazing Prevention” Moodle course as a requirement for any student who wished to participate in club activities. Clearly that hasn’t solved or changed anything about the way students conduct themselves.

The LSU student who took her own life was a graduate of St. Mary’s Dominican High School, my alma mater. She was only two years younger than me. The hospitalized fraternity member was a Jesuit High School alumnus, the same high school my brother attended.

Though this is far from the first Greek Life tragedy reported during my time at the University, it’s the first time I knew the victim or had any personal connection. For the first time, I don’t just feel the usual sympathy for the family or annoyance at the situation. I feel anger. I feel grief. I feel like enough is enough.

Earlier this semester, in September, a hazing complaint was raised against Phi Kappa Psi, yet barely anything was said. No suspension followed, nor any formal reprimand by the University. That alone should be enough to enrage students, especially those of us who were here when Max Gruver died.

Just like Max, I was a freshman at the time: barely starting college, just starting to make friends, getting used to my class schedule and figuring out where the best coffee on campus was. Unlike Max, I’m still here.

The pain on campus was palpable in the days following his death. College was supposed to be fun and exciting, full of new experiences and opportunities, but for Max, it was a death sentence. It could’ve been the same for the recently hospitalized freshman from Phi Kappa Psi. How many more students are we willing to lose this way?

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I’ll make the same argument against Greek Life that I’ve made about police brutality: just because not everyone in the system is corrupt or toxic, just because the system can be beneficial, does not mean that the system is not inherently flawed. As a friend of mine and fellow Dominican alumna put it, “How many slices of moldy bread do you have to find before you throw out the whole loaf?”

The consistent and blatant endangerment of student life is not a product of 2020 nor a reaction to the restrictions of COVID-19 policies; this toxic environment is the foundation of Greek life on campus. Until it can be remedied — whether through legislation, school administration or a long-term cultural shift on campus — I’m calling on the University to suspend not only all Greek life activities, but all Student Organization activities.

Where was the suspension after the September hazing report? Why hasn’t Tom Galligan released a statement yet? If the University will not hold the system accountable and the fraternity members will not hold themselves and their brothers accountable, it is up to the campus community as a whole to make this change.

For Max Gruver. For the fraternity pledge who was hospitalized. For the female student who died seemingly as a result. And for every other victim of the Greek Life system.

This situation was preventable. It was not an unforeseeable accident nor an inevitable tragedy. It was the clear and direct result of a disregard for basic rules and common sense and the University’s unwillingness — or inability — to control its fraternities.

Until the University can ensure the safety of the members of every student organization — Greek Life or otherwise — it should not allow any student organization activities to proceed.

Instead of holding onto the “us versus them” mentality that separates Greek Life members and non-members, we all need to come together and make sacrifices to fix the problems on our campus. Until we can all participate safely in campus life, none of us should.

Marie Plunkett is a 21-year-old classical studies senior from New Orleans.

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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