By Hank Nuwer
For one year, Kathleen Wiant lobbied for passage of an Ohio anti-hazing law with teeth. It classified hazing into five felony categories.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law on July 6, 2021.
This law became “Collin’s Law,” named for Wiant’s son. Collin died in a hazing tragedy at Ohio University in 2018.
Fraternity brothers at Sigma Pi filibustered to save their skins instead of immediately calling 911 to save Collin’s life.
The Ohio law’s passage came too late for Bowling Green State University pledge Stone Foltz. He died in 2021 in horrific fashion. Pi Kappa Alpha brothers coerced him into drinking 40 shots of bourbon.
That was the pledge’s litmus test to show brothers he was “dying to belong.”
BGSU “Pike” brothers escaped more serious convictions. Stone’s death came after passage of Collin’s Law.
Parents removed Stone from life support.
On June 24, 2022, I spoke at Ohio State University at the HazingPrevention.org conference. The purpose was prevention: to train Greek Life educators, college students, and fraternity activists on safe, alternative ways to join a group without hazing.
HPO president Marc Mores kindly introduced me, an HPO founding director, as “the Godfather of Hazing.” My fifth book, “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives, came out in 2018. My next will be “Hazing in American Culture.”
I have been writing about the dangers of hazing since 1975.
In spring of 1975, I chanced to walk into a bar where a Nevada-Reno club pledge was on the floor. He frothed at the mouth from slugging shots of potent Everclear.
I intervened. Members agreed to walk him all night. His life was saved.
But in the fall of ’75, pledge John Davies died after the same club initiation.
I began keeping a database of hazing deaths. My first database was published in Human Behavior magazine in 1978.
Since then, as a journalist I have interacted with more than 50 families who lost a child to hazing.
This year, at Ohio State, I had the sad honor of meeting parents Shari and Cory Foltz, as well as D. J. Williams, Stone’s aunt. The parents filed a recent lawsuit against BGSU, saying they wanted to send all schools a wakeup call to prevent hazing.
Also in my audience were student life members at BGSU. One spoke at a panel of Ohio Greek Life and athletics professionals committed to ending hazing.
These deaths never stop.
Now, the parents of Gracie Dimit have sued Emory & Henry College for her death at age 20 on July 16, 2020.
Gracie was a member of Kappa Phi Alpha (KPA) sorority.
To wit, a KPA driver in an SUV sped along a gravel road adjacent to campus at breath-neck speed while Gracie and two other occupants screamed as if on a roller coaster.
Police reported the driver had indulged in cannabis from a bong and admitted sipping a partial alcoholic drink. Seconds before the crash, the KAP sisters took a group photo.
“Gracie’s life was at risk the moment she stepped foot in the car,” said nationally known activist Courtney White, cousin of pledge Adam Oakes who died in a hazing at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2021.
Emory & Henry students called the stunt “the 500,” a reference to the Indianapolis 500.
Gracie’s screams died with her. The car sailed off the gravel into a tree.
Media had reported no deaths occurring during the pandemic of 2020. HPO’s belief that 2020 had been deathless disintegrated with Gracie Dimit’s’s tragic passing.
Her KPA sorority sister is soon to face a grand jury considering involuntary manslaughter charges. An honor student and former starting basketball player, Lauren N. Salyer now will spend the rest of her life with the consequences of bad judgment.
It happens regularly that a death is found to be hazing months or a year following a tragedy.
Although rare, a death can occur to an initiated member like Gracie, no longer a pledge, according to Courtney White.
The database for Hanknuwer.com, my unofficial clearinghouse of hazing deaths, shows one or more deaths from hazing in student social groups each year from 1959 to 2021.
More astounding, one or more deaths from hazing in colleges and/or high school occurred annually from 1948 to 2021. Exceptions were 1952 and 1958.
When I started covering hazing deaths as a reporter nearly 50 years ago, the media referred to hazing as “good-natured” and a hazing death as “accidental.”
“Hazing is always intentional, it is not an accidental happening,” according to activist Evelyn Piazza, co-founder with husband Jim of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform. “People who engage in hazing think about it, discuss it, and plan for it.”
The Piazzas’ son died in 2017 following a brutal incident at a Penn State Beta Theta Pi party. Live-in fraternity advisor Henry Bream III claimed he was upstairs sleeping even as music blared, booze flowed, and drunken students partied with Tim helpless on the floor after a fall.
Instead of getting Tim help, members ignored him or even poked him.
The Piazzas lobbied for successful passage of Pennsylvania’s Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law.
“Hazing is always done with the intention to cause harm, be it physical (Forced consumption of alcohol or drugs, forced calisthenics, branding, sexual challenges, errands, cleaning, do undesignated driving, sleep deprivation) or psychological/emotional (verbal abuse, threats, degradation, humiliation, mind games and challenges),” noted Evelyn Piazza.
Can activists like HPO’s Mores; Wiant, the Piazzas and Courtney White ever eradicate hazing?
White said she and Adam’s parents hope school officials, legislators and students will “wake up before another young life is lost.”
She said Virginia legislators in 2022 failed to pass a proposed law named after her late cousin. She and father Eric Oakes plan to lobby again next legislative session.
“Students should never be put in a life threatening situation in order to join or continue membership in any organization,” said Evelyn Piazza. “And the school, knowing the dangers of this road should have done more to prevent this type of activity from occurring – large speed bumps, automated gates, cameras, etc.
“Gracie Dimit caught the bullet in the Russian Roulette game of doing the 500 and her family and friends have lost everything wonderful about her in their lives. Hazing is destructive and wrong and is never justifiable or able to be shrugged off as kids being kids.”
2022 so far has been death free.
However, former University of Missouri Phi Gamma Delta pledge Danny Santulli now lies blind and paralyzed at home under his mother’s care.
“Fiji” members in 2021 made him drink a liter of booze and poured beer down his throat as a chaser.
They did everything under the sun to him. Except get him timely help when he turned blue.
For more information on hazing, visit HazingPrevention.org, the Collin Wiant Foundation, the Piazza Memorial Foundation, Love Like Adam Foundation, or Love Like Gracie Foundation.
I’ve been the Godfather of Hazing long enough.
My database of deaths has grown appallingly long.
Stop the carnage.
This column also appears in a cut-for-space version of the Greenville Daily Advocate. Opinions expressed here are my own.