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Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab asks a hard question: Do these hazing deaths get repeated forever and ever, amen?

Excerpt:

Months or years go by, and another student drowns, overdoses or is savagely beaten. And we repeat ourselves all over again.

Remember Chad Meredith?

The 18-year-old pledge at (Miami) drowned in 2001 after fraternity brothers told him to try to swim across Lake Osceola on the UM campus. Meredith had been drinking. It was cold. And he never made it.

His death inspired state legislators to pass in 2005 the toughest hazing law in the country. Hazing convictions suddenly carried the potential of prison time.

“There is an incredible arrogance with these fraternity guys,” David Bianchi, the attorney who represented the Meredith family, told the Sentinel in 2005. “If they find out that the law in Florida has changed, they will not want to subject themselves to a felony. Going to jail — that will stop them.”

If only it were that easy.

“We thought that at the time,” Bianchi told me last week. “Yet these incidents continue … I think it’s worse today than ever.”

Since Meredith died, more than 30 other people have also died in hazing or pledging-related incidents across the country, though Champion’s is the only death in Florida.

The tough new law in 2005 was accompanied by tough talk. Consider this Democrat article that year about hazing, which reported: “Florida A&M University will declare an assault on hazing this fall, and students will be expected to attend seminars on the subject twice a year.”

That was in reaction to a band member paddled so hard he had kidney failure.

Last week, in response to Champion’s death, FAMU suspended classes to hold a meeting on hazing for students. The same day, a congresswoman proposed denying federal financial aid to students who haze.

And so the scenes play out again.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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