Hazing News

25th anniversary of Hank Nuwer’s Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing

Moderator:  With pride and gratitude, I look back on a full quarter-century since the publication of my “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing”.  Unfortunately, publisher Longstreet Press has gone out of business, but used copies usually can be found at a reasonable price at recognized used book sellers such as Amazon. Today, June 15, Chuck Stenzel, son of hazing heroine Eileen Stevens, would have been 58. Her cause is the central story in my investigative book “Broken Pledges.”




“Anyone concerned about the presence of fraternities and sororities on college campuses today should read BrokenPledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing. University administrators, advisors,undergraduates, Greek alumni, parents of pledging students, and even fraternity critics will learn something from Hank Nuwer’s story of the 1978 death of Chuck Stenzel at Alfred University. . .Nuwer believes hazing kills, has nothing to do with tradition, and must be stopped before more deaths occur.”

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)Journal,
John E. Creeden, Associate Provost for Student Affairs, Rutgers
University (New Jersey).

“The definitive study of college  hazing”
The Weekly Standard, February 17, 1997

” First, a word on what BrokenPledges is not. The book is not an anti-fraternity diatribe. One of the points brought home so clearly in the book is that hazing is a long-standing societal problem, not the sole province of male fraternities. Broken Pledges is not written by a sensationalist unfamiliar with the territory. Nuwer is a first-class objective journalist who was hazedas a [fraternity] pledge [at Buffalo State College] and who hazed pledges as a member. . . Even as someone who has worked with fraternities for nearly 10 years, I gained a great deal of insight and perspective.” 

–From the review by Richard Harris, The Fraternity Newsletter: a publication of the Association of Fraternity Advisors, Inc.

“Broken Pledges is replete with page after page of evidence showing that no one looks good when fraternities and hazing are scrutinized. Not the injured or deceased. Not [fraternity] brothers who have a habit of dissembling or clamming up to protect themselves during the resulting inquiries. Not faculty advisors who look the other way during hazing. And not hapless college officials left with the task of public relations damage control and the curbing of future incidents.. .Eileen Stevens, the mother of Chuck Stenzel [pledge killed in a hazingat Alfred University] and founder of the Committee to Halt Useless College Killings (CHUCK) said [in a telephone interview] reading Nuwer’s book wasvery painful. `But it’s very valuable because he makes clear the devastating effect hazing deaths have on families.’” From the review by George Smith of the Allentown [PA] Morning Call

“A thorough and eye-opening examination of the dangers of initiation and hazing
rituals. . .A powerful investigation into a practice in dire need of curtailment.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Everyone associated with fraternity life should read Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing. . .Perhaps it should be compulsory reading for all actives prior to rush. Put this one on the bookshelf in your chapter house.” Book review, Fraternal Law

“Required reading for all prospective college students and others who belong to groups where hazing is an accepted ritual.” Sue Ellen Beauregard, Booklist

“Grade A: Though sometimes graphic, this book is important because it offers proof that hazing is everywhere, not just in college fraternal organizations. The book belongs on the shelves of groups where hazing may occur.” Library Journal (Danna C. Bell, Marymount University Library, Arlington, VA.)

“Greek leaders say [Broken Pledges] illustrates a problem fraternities and sororities are working together to eliminate—organizational hazing. Jonathan Brant, spokesman for the National Interfraternity Conference in Indianapolis, an organization that represents about 5,200 fraternity chapters nationwide, says Nuwer’s book should `raise awareness’ about hazing and its consequences. But even more importantly, he says, the book might also put the spotlight on the work individual Greek chapters are doing to eliminate the problem.” LesleyAnn Mitchell, Article/Review,Gannett News Service

“Hank Nuwer uses the Stenzel case—one that ultimately resulted in a tough New York State law on fraternity hazing—to investigate the persistence of such harassment not only at the university level, but in the world of professional societies and the military. The details are sufficiently horrifying to make good agitprop—just what Nuwer intends.”
Alanna Nash, Entertainment Weekly

“Mr. Nuwer was an associate professor of journalism at Ball State University when, in 1988, he received a Gannett Foundation fellowship to write his book. The book examines hazing abuses that Mr. Nuwer says are prevalent not only among Greek organizations but also in the military, athletic teams, and high school and college bands.In the course of his investigation, [the author] found that fraternity and sorority members who haze pledges don’t mean to harm them. . . “What strikes you is the very ordinariness of the death that makes it so chilling. I want to show that these men didn’t start out to kill anyone. To view them as villains is not to get an accurate picture.”  Michele N-K Collison, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“It is indeed a rare event when a new book of any kind about college fraternities appears. . .And most of the few which do pop up have little serious interest or value. However, Hank Nuwer’s Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing is a welcome exception to this rule. All Greeks who love their fraternities, and value the positive force they can exert on members and campuses, need to read this book. . . Nuwer takes off to discuss aspects of hazing ­ I know of nothing else in print which tells so much about this extraordinarily complicated student behavorial phenomenon. Moreover, Broken Pledges is very good reading.Its affect upon my wife illustrates this. She was at first interested only because it dealt exclusively with Eileen Stevens, whom she knows. But once engaged in readingthe book, she became so fascinated she could hardly put it down.A loyal sorority alumna, she said that for the first time n her life it left her wondering if the Greek letter sorority and fraternity systems as described here were worth saving, and if our own granddaughters would be safe in them.. . So thank you, Hank Nuwer, for writing a book so useful for those concerned with student life—and
especially  the Greeks—the likes of which we have not seen for many years.” Frederick D. Kershner, The Delta Tau Delta Magazine


Hazing News

Wilson baseball case headed to civil court: Buffalo News

Here is the story link to the 2008 baseball team case that ended in criminal court with charges dropped against coaches.

Hazing News

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins: “The Mirage Man”–a commentary on the new book by David Willman

Sorry for the revisions. Getting the hang of Blog writing. Now understand each revision sends a subscriber note. This is final version and won’t be changed. Thanks sincerely for the comments directing me to commentators on the Ivins Affair. Hank

PHOTOS: Link to the copy of Bruce Ivins letter to a hazing activist.

Commentary by Hank Nuwer

A new book by David Willman called “The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America’s Rush to War” (Bantam, $27) is one of those books people tend to talk about around the water cooler. Five people, including postal workers, died from the effects of deadly powdery anthrax sent by mail, and at least 17 persons were infected. Tom Brokaw was the most high-profile journalist sent a tainted letter.

Author David Willman did not contact me for the book, but he did contact and visit a hazing activist that anthrax researcher Bruce Ivins had written at least five times.

An FBI researcher/investigator some years ago talked to me about an excerpt from a letter to the editor in Virginia that I quoted in my book “Broken Pledges.”

A Frederick (VA) newspaper letter purportedly written by Kappa Kappa Gamma alumnus Nancy Haigwood in defense of hazing was written actually under Haigwood’s name by Ivins. That was  an ethical breach by Ivins if true he signed her name to the letter, and it now appears to be so, according to Willman and others.

Willman’s book cites sources who concluded that Bruce Ivins had sent the anthrax-powdered letters to multiple victims. The Ivins connection was first announced by the FBI in 2008. You also can fetch all the anthrax FBI documents here.

I once tried to find Ms. Haigwood for an interview for her pro-hazing views (rather what Ivins falsely portrayed as her pro-hazing views) but failed. Other hazing scholars have quoted from the same letter to the editor written in Haigwood’s name by Ivins.

In the late 1980s, Kappa Kappa Gamma spokespersons I contacted said they could not for privacy reasons give me Haigwood’s last-known address from their national sorority alumnae membership roster so I could question her, but they stressed the organization’s antihazing stance and that Haigwood did not speak for the organization.

Ivins also wrote the Jimmy Flathead materal on KKG for Wikipedia, according to the FBI.

My first and only interview with the FBI (set up by my attorney friend Ben) made it clear to me as a writer that Ivins was not my source in any way,  and I had no obligation to withhold any correspondence from him to a hazing activist provided to me by that hazing activist for my 1990 book “Broken Pledges” (Longstreet Press).

I now omit the name of the activist here because she retired from public life long ago and wants no media intrusion, and her name isn’t so important here.

If he had been a source I would have contacted the Poynter Institute ethics gurus for advice on that sticky issue about providing material from a source to the FBI.

The single photocopied  letter to the activist dated 5/29/83 I did find in a file cabinet of mine was printed in Ivins’s odd printed script and contained the letter to the editor he had forged as an attachment.

Yes, as you can read yourself in my photo of the letter, he did write there that he was working at Fort Detrick on an anthrax project.

The FBI interviewer showed me email addresses that she said Ivins might have used to contact me in the 1990s, but none rang a bell. Was he one of a small group of email writers sending baiting, encouraging or snide letters in the 90s after “Broken Pledges” hit print? If he ever did write it was inconsequential. B ut after reading the FBI report tonight I wonder if Ivins joined a hazing listserv fom Indiana University run by my IUPUI department chair and I, although I was the prime mover here. If Ivins did join, and there may be records somewhere to corroborate, he was never a prime topic responder.

I provided the FBI via mail my thin file of Ivins material he had written to the hazing activist. To me it was interesting how an FBI researcher is so much like a news reporter. She was prepared, professional, thorough and wasted no extra time in my office. Subsequently, the FBI was given all the activist’s files and turned up five letters from Ivins, including a thank you for sending him information on sorority hazing.

Some 21 years after publication, my apologies go to Ms. Haigwood for the “Broken Pledges” reprinting of the editor to the letter that Ivins wrote. Clearly, she wasn’t an advocate of hazing. And wasn’t that nice of Ivins to forward his forged letter to a mother who had lost her son to hazing? He knew it would probably draw a response, and it did–the activist gave it to me. The activist said she had forgotten all about the Frederick letter, but I recalled it because of the interviews with KKG as I went on a failed search trying to find Haigwood to obtain original commentary for “Broken Pledges.”

I do not presume to know if Mr. Ivins was the feared anthrax mail sender or acted alone. Like many others, I wish I knew for sure. Would I love to have been the journalist who solved the anthrax crime? Yeah, Tom Brokaw and me both.

I voluntarily signed a non-disclosure letter, but the FBI agent asked if I would let the activist know an investigation was in the works. I kept that promise to not disclose anything until the files were unsealed, although really I knew so little it hardly mattered.

I wondered once if Ivins knew the FBI had talked to the activist and me, but since she and I were hardly consequential with the heat on him, I gave the matter no other thought except whenever the activist called me the few times Willman phoned or visited her for interviews.

The fixation of Ivins on Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority because of some supposed slight when he was young was strange behavior for a grown man. His hazing support was a cover for his attack on Ms. Haigwood, of course. In fact, look up hazing in the FBI report, and Ivins was all for blindfolds and limited hazing. But if the correspondence connected to hazing led the FBI to a killer I am pleased, but I’m sure the hazing connection was a mere footnote in the greater investigation, and in no way a crime solver. His support of the antihazing movement in my opinion was used for his self-serving own purposes–just as was his donation to a KKG foundation.

I can see why the results of the  FBI investigation have doubters on the Internet questioning if it is indisputable that Ivins was the anthrax killer or acted alone.  The FBI investigation certainly seems to have spurred the suicide of Mr. Ivins by ingestion of OTC medication, according to the new book.

I am glad the saved correspondence from Ivins helped the FBI at all–though I think the activist and I were mere footnotes in the massive biochemical attack investigation that threw the nation into a tizzy so soon after 9/11. But I think the national debate on whether he was guilty or innocent in the anthrax attacks will continue for years. This case was concluded officially and the files unsealed when Ivins killed himself. Unofficially, it will be debated by many people, especially now that Willman’s book is out.

There is a personal sad note about the anthrax story.

One of the hardest-working, nicest students I ever taught at Ball State University (1985-1989) was a national spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service during the anthrax mail scare aftermath in 2001.

When I guest-taught a class for her at Martin University in Indianapolis where she was an adjunct journalism instructor, she talked about how stressful it was conducting PR during the anthrax media blitz. My mentee Darlene Stafford (former resident of Dunkirk, Indiana) later died from heart failure in or near Dallas, Texas, where she had moved to join her new husband. Her mother used to attend class with Darla, and her phone call to me in 2006 with the bad news was so sad to experience.

I cannot blame Ivins directly for Ms. Stafford’s death, of course, since it occurred five years after the anthrax scare. He, if he was the anthrax sender, only caused her job stress at that time.

But given what he did to Ms. Haigwood, I can say with certainty this Dr. Ivins was one troubled, unfortunate individual. One troubled, unfortunate individual with a security clearance at Fort Detrick and access to deadly anthrax.

Hank Nuwer, Moderator

Hazing News

The buck should stop here with Roy Williams and Dez Bryant: Pro rookie hazing and humiliation must stop

The ridiculous practice of rookie hazing in the NFL ought to stop with Roy Williams. Dez Bryant is one of a new generation of players who have come up through the high school and college ranks hearing that hazing is wrong and that it sets a bad example for sport and high school students. If the Dallas coach or front office does not step in, fans should send in their support of Dez Bryant. He has my backing 100 percent. And Roy Williams, you want to be treated like a veteran? Act like one. Show some class.

Excerpt from the Star-Telegram