The year 2020 came and went with no direct hazing deaths in U.S. and North American
schools for the first time since the year 1958.
To be sure, there was an indirect death when the girlfriend of an intoxicated pledge killed herself at Louisiana University in 2020 after fraternity pledge brothers broke into her room and rushed their comrade to a hospital to save his life. Her exact motive for the tragic desperate act died with her.
Unfortunately, already in 2021, two deaths and a suspected third death attributed to alcohol-fueled hazing have occurred.
The first was the February death of Virginia Commonwealth University pledge Adam Oakes, a Delta Chi pledge. As expected, both the school and national fraternity had prohibited hazing and alcohol consumption of high-alcohol substances.
The most recent victim (now on life support) in Ohio at Bowling Green State University. A pledge collapsed after an alleged party at Pi Kappa Alpha last Thursday. After the party, a pledge’s roommate on condition of anonymity, alleged that PIKE pledges were coerced into consuming at least one handle of booze. [I am withholding name until his family or the school announces it). A source informed me the victim is on life support. A roommate this week told media the chapter had heavily hazed his roommate, a pledge, and coerced him into consuming a handle of liquor.
“We extend our deepest and sincere sympathy to the student’s family and friends and all of those affected by this tragic loss,” Pi Kappa Alpha’s Delta Beta Chapter at BGSU Aranda Gehringer said in the statement.
The third death unconfirmed as a hazing but under review as toxicology reports are underway involves the alcohol-related death of James Gilfedder, a baseball player at Lyon College in Arkansas. His family announced its suspicions that hazing was involved after they claimed his bruised body earlier this year.
As a journalist and author, I have covered hazing deaths in universities since 1978. My latest book is titled “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” and contains essays and interviews with national activists, grieving parents, sociologists and concerned educators and national fraternity leaders.
They all in common are trying to present a unified front to stop not only hazing deaths, but injuries, lifetime paralysis, misdemeanor and felony convictions, and all the other debris connected with tragic loss of life because “groupthink” overturned individual common sense and ethics.
My interest was sparked by hazing incidents at the University of Nevada by a group called the Sundowners who eventually killed pledge John Davies in 1975. I did not see Davies hazed because he died after being taken out to a remote Native American reservation, but I had seen three of their very public hazing events with alcohol and directly intervened in 1974 when I saw a pledge passed out under a pool table in a tavern neighboring my house.
It very well seems to be that university officials were caught sleeping on the hazing issue with a false sense of security after 2020 passed without deaths. But with deaths occurring for 60 straight years, there was no reason for complacency.
It was inevitable that fraternity members, deprived of hazing and partying since March of 2020, would bring these activities back with a vengeance.
With a great number of fraternities back on campus and pledging, and many of them planning Spring Break this month to San Padre Island and other Texas destinations where masks are optional, the need for vigilance is quite clear.
That vigilance will be even more needed as practically all schools return to quasi-normal openings and the resumption of student club activities such as pledging in the fall.
Otherwise, I fear, the 2021-2022 school year will see a return to 2019 when I recorded nine deaths on my hazing deaths website.