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Student journalist criticizes hazing court ruling in Florida. We disagree.

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Note: Here is my essay in response.
In Defense of the Florida Hazing Verdict

Essay by Hank Nuwer

As a writer who has published four books on hazing I believe strongly in the First Amendment right of student journalists to voice responsible views based on fact—even if that opinion be contrary to my own or even if that opinion is repulsive to some readers. I also know that student journalists learn by publishing their views and then receiving public criticism of those views whether they be right or wrong.
As a writer who has written about the destroyed lives of families who lost their college-age children in hazing incidents and also the destroyed lives of hazers who had to live with the consequences of their actions, I try hard to look at the troubling hazing issue through the eyes of both the hazed and hazers.
This troubling practice of hazing goes back thousands of years, and it will never be reformed unless the public entertains a healthy debate on the issue—and until all 50 states enact laws similar to Florida’s strong hazing law.
And so I wish to also exercise my right to disagree strongly, though respectfully, with the views of the self-described “distraught” student journalist Dominic (DJ) Hunter when he serves as an advocate for hazing practices banned by law in Florida and other states.
His column begins with this question: “When athletes get injured at practice, are the players allowed to sue the team?”
Well, yes, in several cases where negligence of a coach, athletic trainer or school administrator, etc., was pursued in court. In those cases, the athlete can and has sued. See the multi-million dollar settlement awarded a 14-year-old female basketball player from Sarcoxie, MO when she struck her head on an unpadded wall during practice.

I also object to his second sentence, likening a drug dealer in a sour deal to prospective fraternity member Marcus Jones. That comparison demeans hazing victim Jones but also unintentionally disrespects the international fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, which states its opposition to hazing in the strongest possible terms.
Worse, he refers to Marcus Jones’s decision to report his beating to law enforcement authorities as a “betrayal.”
That is an unfair characterization that may encourage Hunter’s readers to regard Jones as a traitor. It also is the kind of peer pressure that has made injured pledges in other hazing chapters actually help hazers obstruct justice because they fear verbal reprisals similar to being branded as a betrayer.
Mr. Hunter acknowledges that he is a fraternity chapter member and a friend of defendant Brian Bowman, a Florida A & M Kappa, who will be retried on hazing charges. While I can understand why he may be distraught, I respectfully must disagree with his conclusions.
He criticizes Leon County, Fla., Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker for sentencing two members of the Florida A & M chapter. “You cannot save people who don’t want to be saved,” he writes.
But I think his logic falls short here. Her decision to sentence two men and retry three others is a deterrent to other people who may consider hazing to be acceptable, and it has sent a loud public message—even if Mr. Hunter rejects that message.
Mr. Hunter goes on to say that defendant Brian Bowman’s “future is in jeopardy because a judge can’t understand the old ways and traditions of a fraternity.”
Actually, it is the fact that all national Greek groups have responded to reform movements—abolishing hazing, discriminatory clauses in charters, and under-aged drinking—that is deserving of praise. Those former abuses were what actually had been jeopardizing the future of fraternities and sororities.
Deserving of condemnation are not only “the old ways and traditions of a fraternity”—specifically hazing ways—but the words of Old School members who dismiss non-hazing chapter members as “paper members.”
Kappa Alpha Psi lifelong member Ricky Jones has eloquently condemned those who euphemistically use the word “traditions” for illegal hazing practices such as beatings with fists, canings, forced consumption of liquids or disgusting substances, and verbal abuse.
“Even though Greekdom admittedly has positives, many of today’s members have degenerated into dangerous, narcissistic near-sociopaths where the preservation of their rite of hazing is concerned,” writes Kappa Alpha Psi’s Jones in a recent column for Black College Wire.
Put another way, such Old School ways encouraged by Mr. Hunter do not build character.
Such ways don’t reinforce Greek values.
Indeed, such ways put the entire Greek world in jeopardy and cause non-Greeks to overlook fraternity and sorority contributions in such areas as philanthropy, scholarship, and public service. Hazers and proponents of hazing “ways” make prospective members and members alike compromise their integrity. They wrongly compromise the credibility of the very organizations they purport to cherish.
Moreover, he unintentionally defames the founders of the Divine Nine when he writes this: “The founders were subjected to the same hardships and abuse that pledges withstand on line, so I’ve heard.”
So you’ve heard, Mr. Hunter? That statement defies belief, as does your equally self-serving conclusion: “By going through the same oppression, new members can see what led to the formation of the organization and to the necessity of the brotherhood or sisterhood.”
I could take the rest of the column apart line by line to point out similar slips in logic and deficiencies in thinking. When Mr. Hamilton compares “praying over a meal” to “barbaric” practices such as forcing pledges to take beatings, to swill bottles of alcohol, or to endure lineups, I have to roll my eyes, wishing he could see he is unintentionally stereotyping the very fraternal organizations who fight to end Greek stereotypes.
It is the very fact that so many committed Greek undergraduates and alumni have seen the light and said hazing has to go that makes universities across the country see the Greek system as worth preserving. In fact, those committed to Greek reform often have reformed themselves, speaking out to say that they regretted their actions and approve of laws to stop demeaning and dangerous rituals in athletics, band, honor and professional societies, and various occupations—as well as in fraternal organizations.
If this viewpoint of Mr. Hunter’s expressed by a single college student were a lone opinion, I might let it go, figuring that readers are all intelligent enough to see these words as those of the “distraught” individual he acknowledges being.
But he is not alone. Writer Blair S. Walker in Diverse Issues in Higher Education also blasts Judge Dekker’s ruling. “It’s asinine that Morton and Harris — one close to earning a pharmacy degree, the other weeks from an engineering degree — received two-year sentences in an incident where no one was killed or grievously injured,” he writes.
The problem there is that until recently, you could count on one hand the number of cases in which anyone went to jail after a pledge “was killed or grievously injured.” Florida legislators saw the injustice in that and passed a hazing law to try to make sure no one gets killed or grievously injured. In case after case where someone does die, the hazers circle the wagons and throw up a wall of silence to make sure the voice of the deceased is never heard.
The fact that Marcus Jones lived to tell his tale in court is atypical. His court testimony about the abuse he endured in a misguided wish to conform for a time to Old School hazing enables misguided “ways and traditions” to be exposed in a public forum for writers such as myself, Mr. Hunter, and Mr. Walker to comment upon.
And while I disagree to the nth degree with Mr. Hunter and Mr. Walker, I uphold their First Amendment right to speak out.
However, I respectfully urge all future columnists in future hazing cases to think twice before labeling former pledges as betrayers or for saying convicted felons should somehow get off or get a light sentence because they themselves are young and promising.
Young Jones, at his father’s urging, merely pressed a case the new Florida hazing law fully entitled him to press. The two sentenced A & M hazers had plenty of warning about the consequences of defying the much-publicized law.
The hazing law is like other laws that cover offenses formally tolerated by society until they were outlawed.
You don’t have to like the law. You have to obey it.

For an opposing view, see:

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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