MATT LAUER, co-host:
Now more of our series, tackling PARENTS’ WORST FEARS. And today we’re talking about hazing. By the time your son or daughter enters high school, he or she may have already been involved in some kind of hazing incident. Unfortunately, hazing has become a problem at all academic levels from grade school to university. And while most kids make it through it relatively unharmed, others are not so lucky.
Dr. DAN REARDON: Daniel was–was just a really wonderful child from the time of his birth, and you know, un–until he died.
Ms. NANCY McKEMME: What I love to remember about Daniel was his ability to sing.
Dr. REARDON: I received a call at 5:30 in the morning from the campus police that–that my son, Daniel, was in ICU.
LAUER: Dr. Dan Reardon and Nancy McKemme got the news all parents hope they never receive.
Dr. REARDON: The attending physician took me aside and explained to me the extent of Danny’s damages, and the likelihood that he was brain-dead and would never regain consciousness.
LAUER: And after seven nights in intensive care, 19-year-old Daniel Reardon died on Valentine’s Day, 2002, a fraternity hazing ritual gone awry. Daniel, along with the other pledges, was prodded into drinking an excessive amount of alcohol.
Dr. REARDON: I used to joke and say I’ll be a successful parent if I can get my kids out of their 20s alive. And I don’t joke about that any more. Danny was four months short of his 20th birthday.
LAUER: At the time of his death, Daniel was pledging Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity at the University of Maryland. The university says, quote, “Reardon’s death was a terrible tragedy,” and through education and enforcement, they hope to prevent this from ever happening again.
Ms. McKEMME: At some point, the boys that were central in this event, will grow up, they will marry, they will have children. Those children will go to university. We’ll see if they allow their sons and daughters to be in the good Greek life, knowing what they’ve experienced.
LAUER: Susan Lipkins is a psychologist who specializes in children and adolescents.
Ms. SUSAN LIPKINS: I’m still shocked at how many different ways people come up to die or to be seriously hurt as a result of this kind of hazing.
LAUER: Two years ago, all Jake Savoy of Louisiana wanted to do was play high school football. But on his birthday, after practice, he was hazed by some of the older boys on the team.
Mr. JAKE SAVOY: When I got on the bench, they started taping me from my ankles all the way up to my neck and my hands, and they pulled my pants down to my knees, and one by one they started hitting me, putting their butts in my face, and finally somebody said, `Hey, look, he’s bleeding.’
LAUER: Twenty-eight students were disciplined by the school because of the incident. Today, Jake’s a high school senior at that school. Karen Savoy is his mother. Because of what happened to Jake, she started MASH: Mothers Against School Hazing.
Ms. KAREN SAVOY: It changes everybody’s lives. It changes the perpetrator’s lives, it changes the victim’s lives. It splits communities. What I say is, `Think before you do.’
LAUER: Daniel’s parents paid the ultimate price. They lost their son. They only hope other people can learn from their tragedy.
Ms. McKEMME: We spent a week before they gave Daniel a brain calmer. I held him in my arms for eight hours in ICU while he shook. And we tried to decide if he could recover. And you have to make decisions like that when your child dies. And you know that other fa–families are facing that and you wonder how these circumstances can continue year after year, month after month.
LAUER: Hank Nuwer is a journalism–journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana and the author of four books on hazing, including “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing” and “High School Hazing: When Rites become Wrongs.”
Hank, good morning. Good to see you.
Mr. HANK NUWER (Franklin College): Hello.
LAUER: Now for people who are watching this and think, OK, this only happens with football teams and fraternities, think again.
Mr. NUWER: Right. There’s occupational hazing. We’ve had two adults die in the last two years. Band hazing. We have hazing in the military and so forth. So it’s a societal problem and an international problem.
LAUER: And a lot of people used to think this was college, OK, and maybe every once in a while it happened in high school with football teams and things like–you’re seeing incidents of hazing now taking place in elementary school.
Mr. NUWER: Right, the sixth grade–going down as far.
LAUER: So–so why has this become such a part of academic life?
Mr. NUWER: Well, it’s–it’s always been a part of academic life where basically this need for order that the school had basically took over, and people were not encouraged to say no. And–and this idea of fitting in, and the idea of precedence became big in the educational system. So we’ve had hazing deaths up to 1838.
LAUER: W–when students are injured in hazing incidents, are the laws strong enough? Do–do the–does the law look at a hazing incident as seriously as it would look at an assault outside of a school environment?
Mr. NUWER: State by state, we have 44 states that have laws, a sexual simulation in Georgia would not be considered to be sexual, whereas a case in New Hampshire might be. So the laws are all over. Victim involvement in about 20 states makes a difference. If you start off willingly, makes a difference at the end how the law will look at you.
LAUER: You ta–you mentioned sexual assault. A lot of hazing incidents are taking a turn in that direction, aren’t they?
Mr. NUWER: Over 7–70 media incidents since about 1995, including sodomy.
LAUER: So it used to be they forced you to drink or they beat you up a little bit. And now a lot of these things have a sexual overtone to them.
Mr. NUWER: Sure and get out of hand. One–all it takes is one person in the group to take someone’s pants down and–and put an object in or so forth. It Gets way out of hand.
LAUER: And we–we’ve heard the–the statement from the University of Maryland that said we’re going to, you know, through enforcement and education, we’re going to prevent something like this from happening at a fraternity again. Why don’t universities just say if there is any kind of a rush event at a fraternity, there must be a school chaperone present?
Mr. NUWER: Right. We need to have adults present not only in fraternity houses, but also in the high school level in locker rooms and so forth. The schools have not taken a hard-line stance. We–things have been abdicated where we have deans of discipline–deans of students in charge. Faculty are not involved. And at the NCAA level, for example, we need faculty reps to take a hard-line stance.
LAUER: So what would your best advice be to parents, not only to prevent their own children from becoming victims of hazing, but to prevent them from hazing some another child?
Mr. NUWER: Well, we talk about basic civility. There should be no intimidation. There should be no harassment. And if your school has something like freshman kick day, something with a euphemism like that, which is foolish to begin with, watch out. And make sure that these traditions are stopped before someone gets hurt.
LAUER: Hank Nuwer, important subject. Thanks very much for the information.
Mr. NUWER: Thank you.
LAUER: I appreciate it.