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Commentary: West Virginia Phi Gamma Delta chapter tests new Greek supervisor

Moderator:  It has been my honor and privilege over the years to have worked with many many great Directors of Greek Life and also individual chapter advisers.  One of the leaders I have known the longest is Roy Baker who has served with distinction all his career at Bucknell, Syracuse and Penn State–all three where I have lectured on hazing prevention. In my estimation, he is all an administrator would want in a leader: tough, fair, consistent and concerned for the growth, safety and well being of his students.

He sent me once a letter after one of my talks in which he said a sorority saved the life of a member by calling 911 a couple days after my talk. A member told him my talk had inspired the women to face trouble and call for help rather than delay and possibly lose one of their own.  It is one of the letters I most treasure in my own career that began in the 1970s.

On November 1, Dr. Baker began his duties and West Virginia University. I had dropped him a note to congratulate him. Now, according to a news story, it looks as if the Fiji chapter at WVU cavalierly has decided to test boundaries with the new director. According to local TV reports, “Christopher Grace, 21, of Arlington, Virginia was found Wednesday at about 11:30 a.m. bound with duct tape. Investigators say the victim and fraternity members showed minor injuries from an altercation. And, according to police, Grace was being shoved in the trunk of a car.”

Big mistake. West Virginia is already reeling from the death of Kappa Sigma pledge Nolan Burch, a young man who grew up in a Buffalo, NY suburb not far from where I was born and reared. And the subject of my 1990 book “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing” was Klan Alpine pledge Chuck Stenzel, son of well-known hazing activist Eileen Stevens, who died at the Alfred University following an incident in which members kidnaped him, stuffed him in a car trunk, and coerced him into drinking a lethal amount of alcohol. (Klan Alpine was abolished at Alfred University, and now AU is known for its published research on hazing conducted by another old friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Norm Pollard).

A similar kidnaping and car stuffing years ago nearly claimed the life of a University of Michigan hockey rookie who fortunately was hospitalized just in time. So, this “prank” is more than a prank. It is a bonafide hazing incident, and I have no doubt PhI Gamma Delta’s national will also lower the boom on its WVU chapter for this stupid stunt.

If the news article is correct, the offending chapter soon will learn that its old ways now are its past ways.

Welcome to WVU, Dr. Baker. WVU is a great school with many distinguished faculty.

Here is the story link.

WVU FijiWVU Fiji

The article says this:

 “One of our plans will be to make sure that students at the university, parents at this university, know before they join a fraternity or sorority, if that chapter had been involved in issues whether it be hazing, alcohol education, sexual assault, any of those types of things,” he said.
 
“Baker says the university has a lot of work to do, and they will use Wednesday’s incident as a learning tool to prevent future problems.”
You can take Dr. Baker’s word that this is so.
Postscript: WVU released the names of FIJI members charged by local police. Here is the statement in part:
Upon further investigation, officers found that the entire incident was part of a fraternity prank for the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity. All of the below listed individuals involved are pending charges for disorderly conduct.
  • Luke Russillo, 18 years of age of Smyrna, Delaware
  • Joseph Russillo, 18 years of age of Smyrna, Delaware
  • Chadwick Miller, 18 years of age of Sewell, New Jersey
  • Matthew Kinker, 19 years of age of Crystal Lake, Illinois
  • Tyler Audette, 18 years of age of Massapequa, New York
  • Austin Harpin, 21 years of age of Feeding Hills, Massachusetts
  • Cody Heffelinger, 18 years of age of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania

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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