By Hank Nuwer
Definition: A handle of booze is a 1.75 mL bottle of liquor. A handle is equal to about 40, 1.5-ounce shots. Any social club members or athletes requiring a pledge or rookie to consume a handle is criminal. Nothing less.
Forty-four states have laws against hazing. Indiana’s is weak compared to Florida and Pennsylvania. An attempt by a coalition I was on to get the Indiana law strengthened failed. I hope one day to support another such effort by our legislators.
The year 2020 came and went with no direct hazing deaths in U.S. and North American
schools for the first time since the year 1958.
To be sure, there was an indirect death when the girlfriend of an intoxicated pledge killed herself at Louisiana University in 2020 after fraternity pledge brothers broke into her room and rushed their hazed comrade to a hospital to save his life. Her exact motive for the tragic desperate act died with her.
Unfortunately, already in 2021, the U.S. has had two confirmed deaths, a suspected death, and a third deceased boy’s case under police scrutiny. All three have been attributed to alcohol-fueled hazing.
The first was the February death of Virginia Commonwealth University pledge Adam Oakes, a Delta Chi pledge. As expected, both the school and national fraternity had prohibited hazing and wrongful alcohol consumption.
The most recent hazing this year was last Thursday in Ohio at Bowling Green State University. Sophomore Stone Foltz collapsed after an alleged party at Pi Kappa Alpha. After the party, a pledge’s roommate on condition of anonymity, alleged to family members that PIKE pledges were coerced into consuming at least one handle of booze.
The family kept Stone alive for days. Family attorney Sean Alto sadly said that the victim’s organs have now been harvested.
The victim. A strapping, thin, athletic kid who trusted people he shouldn’t have trusted. Friends who spit on the multi-year health and hazing awareness program a friend of mine has put on for PIKE for several years now to prevent just this kind of horror.
“We extend our deepest and sincere sympathy to the student’s family and friends,” Pi Kappa Alpha’s Delta Beta Chapter at BGSU Aranda Gehringer said in a statement.
The third death, unconfirmed as a hazing but under review as toxicology reports are underway, involves the alcohol-related death of James Gilfedder, a baseball player at Lyon College in Arkansas. His family announced its suspicions that hazing was involved after they claimed his bruised body earlier this year.
The fourth death was that of Eli Weinstock, a newly initiated member of Pi Kappa Alpha at American University who was found dead in a shower. Police said he had been with fraternity brothers at a Happy Hour in a local tavern.
As a journalist and author, I have covered hazing deaths in universities since 1978. My latest book is titled “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” and contains essays by national activists, grieving parents, sociologists and concerned educators and national fraternity leaders.
They present a unified front to stop not only hazing deaths, but injuries, lifetime paralysis, misdemeanor and felony convictions, and all the other debris connected with tragic loss of life because “groupthink” overturned individual common sense and ethics.
My interest was sparked by hazing incidents at the University of Nevada by a group called the Sundowners who eventually killed pledge John Davies in 1975.
It very well seems to be that university officials at three schools were caught sleeping on the hazing issue. Perhaps they felt a false sense of security after 2020 passed without deaths. But with deaths occurring through 2019 for 60 straight years, there was no reason for complacency.
It was inevitable that a few club and sports teams, deprived of hazing and partying since Spring 2020 with schools online, would bring criminal activities with a vengeance.
The need for vigilance is quite clear.
Vigilance will be even more needed as all schools return to the resumption of pledging in the fall.
Otherwise, the 2021-2022 school year will see a return to unthinkable 2019 and nine hazing deaths.
For now, my heart is with the parents who lost beautiful young men.
It’s also with Stone who wrote this as his last Twitter message on Jan. 30 after pledging commenced. “I’m suck! I’m lost[;] idk what to do! I wish I had a sign on what to do and who to trust! This generation plays to[o] many games!”
Amen. It’s time to get a handle on hazing.
Hank Nuwer is emeritus professor at Franklin College and now an author living in Union City, Indiana.