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Opelika-Auburn News on Auburn fraternity life: non-hazing death of Andrew Jackson Thurmond IV; Chad Saucier remembered; 4 non-criminal hazing offenses in 2008 at Auburn

Joe McAdory
Staff writer
Published: March 14, 2009

Richard Hamrick’s visit to a 2005 Sigma Nu party at Auburn left him with brain swelling and a 10-day stay in a Columbus hospital.

Andrew Jackson Thurmond IV, 18, of Birmingham, was killed in September in a car wreck west of Auburn. The Delta Sigma Phi brother had a blood-alcohol level of 0.76, according to a coroner’s report. The Auburn Police Division has not said whether the driver, Scott Leighton, 19, also a Delta Sigma Phi brother, was drinking.

Taylor Jones is still recovering from serious injuries received during a January altercation at a Sigma Phi Epsilon party. The Auburn freshman hasn’t returned to school.
Alcohol. Death. Fighting.

And a reputation.

“People believe fraternities are evil, therefore they must always be evil,” said Paul Kittle, director of the Office of Greek Life at Auburn. “The common generalization is that all fraternity men are thugs.

“We tell them, ‘The public holds the weapon, you hold the ammunition.’ The guys completely own their image. ‘Don’t play beer pong in your front yard, take pictures of yourselves and put it on the Internet.’

“We know they’re better than that. Those who do those sort of things represent a small subset of a large group. But the entire fraternity gets painted by the same broad brush. … All of that community service work you do, your image, gone.”

Jim Hardin, director of Judicial Affairs at Auburn, reported 11 fraternity-related offenses that required disciplinary action in 2008. Four involved hazing, two theft, two disorderly conduct, one possession of drug-related paraphernalia, one vandalism and one DUI. None involved actions taking place at an actual party.

The university’s response to the incidents included counseling, probation, health behavior assessments and restitution.

By contrast, the university reported 60 such incidents last year involving non-Greeks.

Kittle estimated a little less than a quarter of all males at Auburn are involved in a fraternity.

Will Caudill, president of Sigma Chi, thinks the rap against fraternities is unfair.

“The first thing the media hears is when something goes wrong,” said Caudill, a bio-medical science from Franklin, Tenn. “We do a lot of great things. We (Sigma Chi) raised $12,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. That stuff, people don’t hear about.”

According to Bo Mantooth, advisor to the Auburn Interfraternity Council,  fraternities at Auburn raised between $175,000 and $200,000 last year for local charities. They also donated 35,000 to 40,000 hours in community service, he said.

“There’s a lot more to life than the parties,” said Bradford Stewart, president of the Interfraternity Council. “That’s what the majority of non-Greeks see, parties.”

Not like the movies

Fraternity parties are legendary, from John Belushi modeling a toga in “Animal House” to the boys of Lamda Lamda Lamda getting down with the Omega Mu’s in “Revenge of the Nerds.”

But there are rules in an effort to ensure the parties are safe. Each party must have a hired security team in place to check IDs, make sure people attending the party are on the guest list and help prevent dangerous situations.

Locally, the team of FBL Security, headed by Daniel Finz, has been the preferred choice of many Greek organizations, Kittle said. Repeated attempts to reach Finz failed.

Another company, C&C Security of Birmingham, worked a recent Sigma Chi party and plans to expand full time into the Auburn area.

“Most people see security guards as idiots who beat people up when things go bad,” said Anthony Burke, who heads C&C. “But we are here to make sure nobody gets hurt and that they have a good time. When you break the rules, you have to leave. The first time, we give them a warning. The second time, we tell them to go into the house or leave.”

C&C works about 150 parties a year, including events in Auburn and Tuscaloosa, Burke said.

Checking IDs at the door is an important part of the job, he said. He said partygoers must clear a checkpoint. If legal, the person receives an arm bank. Those who do not are given a big ‘X’ on their fist.

“The problem is outsiders, the people who don’t know the rules,” he said.

All sanctioned fraternity parties must adhere to the IFC guidelines and national risk management guidelines of the Fraternal Information & Programming Group. Failure to comply can result in sanctions, including a ban on future events.

“If you want to host an event where alcohol is present, there are standards that all fraternities must follow,” Kittle said. “Having proper risk management is a way to ensure safety for an event — and to ensure that you will have an event the next week.

“We hold risk management sessions at the beginning of every semester. The fact that I don’t get police reports or property complaints shows they are managing themselves well.”
One such guideline includes the “bring your own beer” rule. Keg parties are not permitted.

Auburn President Dr. Jay Gogue said there is room for improvement in creating safer atmospheres at fraternity
parties.

“It’s much like what we would say regarding campus safety and security,” he said. “We’ve made progress, but we can do more.”

Although Auburn is a dry campus, alcohol is permitted within the confines of a fraternity house.

“Those fraternities located within the boundaries of Auburn University lease the land for their respective houses, giving them their own sense of private property that allows for alcoholic beverages,” Kittle said. “All but six fraternities (Ki Phi, Lambda Chi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Pi Kappa, Fiji) are located on campus property.

The off-campus fraternities must abide by the same rules as those on campus, Kittle said.

Kittle said drinking is part of the college culture and that involves under-aged students.

“It’s here. Our challenge is how to educate students so they can reduce the number of incidents,” he said. “Students who choose to drink are going to drink. This city does not exist under a bubble. It’s the real world. This is a very open institution. Very rarely are there reports of injuries and I’m thankful for that. If you can find the answer to under-aged drinking, that’s the silver bullet.
“Fraternity membership is not supposed to supersede the legal drinking age.”

Modern hazing often subtle

Auburn has not been immune to hazing incidents in the past.

In 1993, Chad Saucier, a student from Mobile, writhed in convulsions and died after consuming a large amount of alcohol at a Christmas party. It was reported that Saucier, dressed in an elf suit, was strongly encouraged to continue drinking.

In August 2005, a prospective Theta Chi member was hospitalized due to a high amount of alcoholic consumption. According to FIPG rules, fraternities are not allowed to use alcohol during the recruitment of pledges.

Although the word brings to mind those kinds of horror stories, Kittle said it is more subtle now.

“People think of beatings and brandings,” he said. “You can consider hazing anything with power control. Someone has to be in position of perceived power over another. But a lot of freshmen don’t know the definition of hazing. Hazing on the subtle end is an issue we deal with on a regular basis.

Four brothers faced hazing charges last year, Hardin said. All stemmed from the same incident.

“It was personal items,” he said. “Stuff like, ‘Go get me a Coke.’ But if it’s permitted to a certain amount, there are problems you can get into. While this wasn’t doing any damage, pretty soon this person isn’t studying for his chemistry exam.”

Capt. Tom Stofer of the Auburn Police Division said fraternities at Auburn are well-behaved compared to others.

“As major institutions go, I’d say we have some of the best, well-behaved fraternities anywhere,” said Stofer. “They aren’t immune to problems, but they have been isolated incidents. The only time we really respond is when something gets out of hand.”

Stofer said the most common calls are fight complaints or disorderly conduct incidents.

“But this isn’t just a fraternity issue. Alcohol plays a part in society’s problems, in general,” he said. “We’re just as likely to respond to alcohol-related calls downtown as we are at a fraternity house.

“Alcohol is the root of so many problems. Date rape, domestic violence, property damage, you can often track it right back to alcohol abuse or use. We know there is a lot of alcohol in Auburn readily available.”

Boys and girls clubs

Dr. Alan D. DeSantis, professor of communication at the University of Kentucky, wrote about Greek life in “Inside Greek U.: Fraternities, Sororities and the Pursuit of Power, Pleasure and Prestige.”

DeSantis said failures within the Greek system cannot totally be traced back to the men and women involved.

“Fraternities and sororities are social boys and girls clubs run by boys and girls,” he told the Opelika-Auburn News. “There is not enough adult presence for guidance in their lives. It is a rare professor who I meet that even gets involved in these organizations. We do a far better job with student-athletes. No wonder they become really incredible people.”

Although he supports the Greek system, DeSantis said it has lost its focus.

“I think the major problem is that it has become all about the social aspect,” he said. “The mission in college is to expand the lives and minds of students to help them think better and more critically. A person should be forever changed by this experience. Sadly, I do not believe the Greek system aids in that goal. I don’t think it challenges them.”

Some fraternity members make it to the top. Take Gogue, for example.

“More than anything else, fraternity membership taught me that there is something out there that’s much bigger than me,” said the Sigma Chi alum. “The collective membership can do a lot more together than each person can do individually, and that understanding has proven valuable as I’ve worked to lead a large organization such as a
university.”

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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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