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Hazing News

Tracy Smith interview with Hank Nuwer

TRACY SMITH: Champion`s senseless death sparked a national outcry over hazing–the same outcry as earlier last year after the hazing death of George Desdunes at Cornell; and in 2009 after the hazing death of Arman Partamian at Geneseo State. The same outcry that has come with chilling regularity every year, for decades.

Since you`ve been covering this not a year has gone by where someone hasn`t died of hazing?

HANK NUWER: Since I`ve started covering it in `75, yes, there`s been a death every particular year. Would I be very surprised if 2012 goes by without a death? Yes.

TRACY SMITH: Hank Nuwer is a professor at Franklin College in Indiana, who`s spent the past forty years documenting every hazing death in the United States.

What is hazing?

HANK NUWER: Well, hazing is anything that is required of a newcomer by veterans in a group that you have to go through that may be silly, demeaning, or dangerous.

TRACY SMITH: And the record of dangerous even deadly hazing stretches back more than a century.

HANK NUWER: The first verifiable incident clearly is 1873 at Cornell University. It`s the death of Mortimer Leggett, who was the son of a civil war general and hero.

TRACY SMITH: For the next hundred years more deaths followed sporadically. But about thirty years ago, Nuwer noticed a disturbing trend.

HANK NUWER: Alcohol is the big discussion group–

TRACY SMITH: The one constant in eighty-two percent of hazing deaths, Nuwer found, was massive quantities of alcohol–part of a growing culture of binge drinking at colleges across America.

HANK NUWER: We`re talking levels which would be approaching basically half of– of your blood system being filled with liquor. In the death of Chuck Stenzel, when I interviewed the pathologist and went to the room where he did his autopsy, he basically said his brain was swimming in alcohol.

TRACY SMITH: Chuck Stenzel died at Alfred University in New York in 1978, and the community was so outraged they passed the state`s first anti-hazing law–one of forty-four states to do so.

TRACY SMITH: The Starkeys realize they may never be able to stop kids from drinking, or hazing. But they hope they can stop them from dying. They`re lobbying for amnesty laws for kids who call 911 about a drunk friend, and they`re teaching students how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning through their program “Aware, Awake, Alive.”

SCOTT STARKEY: We need to stop hazing. But maybe a– a baby step there is to get them to stop treating alcohol like a toy and using it as a tool for hazing.

TRACY SMITH: For the Starkeys, and for hazing expert Hank Nuwer, it`s all about trying to save another family from the unthinkable.

HANK NUWER: That`s the call that comes in the middle of the night, the visit to the emergency room when you know your son or daughter doesn`t have a lot of time, I would like to imprint that on the memory banks of every parent in the country so that they would demand more of our colleges and of our students themselves. We can do better.

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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