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Hazing News

Walter Dean Jennings recalled and honored at Plattsburgh State

Here is the Press-Republican commentary

excerpt

In March 2003, members of Psi Epsilon Chi, an unrecognized fraternity at Plattsburgh State, were holding initiations — hazings, it turns out. One of the willing participants tragically became a victim.

Eighteen-year-old Walter Dean Jennings, a freshman at the college, underwent an astonishing 12 days of hazing at the hands of his perhaps well-intentioned tormenters, forced to perform calisthenics following by enclosure in a 100-degree room, made to drink alcohol until he vomited and, finally, to drink huge quantities of water. It was the water that did him in: He was forced to drink so much that his brain swelled, leading to his death.

For the family of Jennings, it was a staggering and shocking turn of events. You send your son off to college full of hope and promise, and he dies in a hazing ritual that apparently couldn’t have been foreseen or forestalled. For their unspeakable loss, the family was awarded $1.5 million in a wrongful-death suit.

For the perpetrators, it was an astounding wake-up. One of them was sentenced to jail; a dozen others were given community service. Their lives, we assume, will never be fully restored.

The college suffered, too. Publicity reached across the nation. It was a black eye, even though the school had absolutely no role in any of the activities. An on-campus death, particularly under such ugly circumstances, is never good for any institution.

It is with this tragedy still somewhat fresh in everyone’s mind that the Greek organizations at Plattsburgh State scheduled a series of anti-hazing events for the week of Sept. 19 and 23. The events are intentionally slated right off the bat as the school year gets under way.

The Jennings death is one of the focal points of the series. A candlelight vigil will be held in his memory at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Angell College Center’s Amity Plaza.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; 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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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