I have served as an expert witness on about eight hazing cases in the past six years. Part of my research on historically Black fraternities and sororities has been the persistent problem of hazing, hopefully finding some solutions. I have argued that the only way to really effect change is to raise the level of personal risk for those who haze. Being suspended from school hasn’t been a great deterrent, but if people routinely go to prison, people would think twice.
So I was excited to read this weekend that Raymond Lee had been convicted of aggravated assault in the hazing of Braylon Curry. Curry, who miraculously survived, was forced to drink gallons of water that filled his lungs and caused his brain to swell. This was a story of national interest, even covered on the Today Show.
I thought, “Finally! This is going to set the new precedent on hazing cases that don’t involve a death.” Several have spent time in jail for a hazing death, but normally an injury usually results in a slap on the wrist. I was more confident that this was a slam-dunk because Lee had been disciplined for hazing at another institution, having to do community service and write a paper. That was a joke, because he was back to hazing at SMU with a chapter that had just been reactivated by the fraternity. When I saw that he had been on probation for identity theft, unconscionably of one of his own “brothers,” I knew he was on his way to a cold cell.
Then the news broke: “Man convicted in hazing case gets probation.”
Are you kidding me? Lee is a grown man at 28, not some kid fooling around. He had been sanctioned for a prior hazing incident. During cross-examination it was revealed that Lee was on six probations, and wore an electronic monitor because he failed to report to his “probation” officer.
And what does he receive? More probation. The jail time is because he violated his previous probation, not for this act.
We will never eradicate hazing until the courts treat this as a real crime. College students die every year due to hazing, and we just accept that as a fact of life. And for the record, this water ritual is not required to join Alpha Phi Alpha. I pledged in Georgia 20 years ago and I never heard a chapter do this until now.
Lee’s mom thinks he can have an impact by teaching others from his mistakes. But he doesn’t know basic history. He didn’t know that just SIX months before the Curry incident, Walter Jennings died pledging a fraternity at SUNY Plattsburgh. How did he die? His brain swelled due to being forced to consume a large volume of water.
In that case, 11 plead guilty. Three were sentenced to 15 days in jail, but reduced for participation in an educational video on hazing. But one, a 25-year old alumnus, guilty of hazing and coercion, was given one year in jail because he was viewed as an instigator.
Hmmm. Seems very similar to Lee. I guess the jury didn’t understand history. Or maybe they just didn’t care about hazing and the safety of young people. But we now know in Texas that hazing is a joke.
If Lee, a proven hazer, identity thief, and probation skipper gets “probation,” no one should ever see time in jail for hazing.
And the next Braylon Curry won’t be so lucky.
Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D., is the author of “Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities.”