In March 2003, members of Psi Epsilon Chi, an unrecognized fraternity at Plattsburgh State, were holding initiations â€” 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.