by Haley Cahill, Assistant Director of Communications/Editor
*Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of To Dragma*
Hazing. The simple, six letter word dominated headlines in 2017 with the tragic death of four individuals on college campuses as a result of hazing. Hazing does not always end in death, though. Numerous other incidents of hazing in 2017 surfaced as well, bringing significant light to hazing culture on college campuses. As members of a Greek organization, our role is to educate ourselves on current events regarding this dangerous culture and work with our fraternity and sorority peers to be catalysts for change moving forward.
Hazing: The imposition of strenuous, often humiliating, tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation; humiliating and sometimes dangerous initiation rituals, especially as imposed on college students seeking membership to a fraternity or sorority.*
A Year In Review
In order to change the narrative, we must understand the events that have culminated in this critical call for action.
Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore, was forced to drink 18 alcoholic beverages in less than 90 minutes at a hazing ritual the chapter called “the gauntlet” on the night of February 2, 2017, according to court documents. Surveillance video from the fraternity house has significantly aided in piecing that night together. Footage showed Piazza emerging from the house basement at 10:30 p.m. visibly intoxicated, staggering, and falling in and out of consciousness. It is estimated that Piazza’s blood alcohol content level was between 0.28 and 0.36 percent, which is more than four times the legal limit for drivers. Footage over the next several hours showed Piazza twitching and vomiting, as well as his multiple attempts to stand, walk and ultimately fall several times—falls so severe he sustained major traumatic injuries. At 10:48 a.m. on February 3, 2017, nearly 12 hours after Piazza initially emerged from the fraternity basement visibly drunk, a brother called 911. With traumatic brain injuries, a fractured skull and shattered spleen, Piazza was pronounced dead at Hershey Medical Center on February 4, 2017. Twenty-six members of the fraternity were charged with more than 1,000 counts ranging from involuntary manslaughter to tampering with evidence. University officials permanently banned the fraternity from campus and called for reform and restrictions for other organizations. At the time this article went to press, a Pennsylvania judge had dismissed charges of involuntary manslaughter against five of the former fraternity men.
Maxwell Gruver, an 18-year-old freshman at Louisiana State University, participated in a hazing ritual known as “bible study” on the night of September 13, 2017 with members of a fraternity he planned to join. “Bible study” was a ritual where pledges were asked questions related to the history of the fraternity. If answered incorrectly, they were forced to drink alcohol or do physical activities such as planks or wall sits while elder brothers walked across their legs. Court documents reveal Gruver was placed on a couch at some point during the night and monitored by other members. At approximately 9 a.m. on September 14, 2017, members checked his pulse, only to find it weak and Gruver barely breathing. He was taken to a Baton Rouge hospital and pronounced dead as a result of acute alcohol poisoning with aspiration. At the time of his death, toxicology reports indicated his blood alcohol level was .495—more than six times the legal limit for drivers. Ten members of the fraternity were charged with misdemeanor hazing, and one of the 10 members charged with negligent homicide, which carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both. Four individuals were indicted in his death. The university formed a “Greek Life Task Force” following Gruver’s death and placed a ban on alcohol at fraternity and sorority events.
Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old junior at Florida State University, attended “Big Brother Night” on November 2, 2017. At the party, pledge members were introduced to their big brothers and were expected to drink in excess. Coffey consumed an entire bottle of bourbon, drinking until he passed out on a couch outside the home. One brother brought him to a couch inside, where he reportedly was snoring loudly while other brothers played pool. On the morning of November 3, 2017, Coffey was found unresponsive with purple lips and a stiff body. Police were called to the scene shortly after 10 a.m., The 911 call revealed multiple members of the fraternity attempted chest compressions for several minutes under the direction of the dispatcher while waiting for paramedics to arrive. When police arrived at the scene, they pronounced Coffey dead. At the time of his autopsy, his blood alcohol level was deemed .447—more than five times the legal limit for drivers. While few details have emerged regarding the night leading up to Coffey’s death, nine members of the fraternity were charged with third degree felony hazing and alcohol abuse. Court information indicated that at least 12 other pledge members had vomited during the night due to excessive alcohol consumption, and though fraternity members did not physically force them to drink, they did create an environment where it was expected, or the potential new members would be outcast. Immediately following the event, the president of FSU indefinitely suspended the school’s 55 fraternities and sororities and temporarily banned alcoholic events for another 700 student groups on campus.
Matthew Ellis, a 20-year-old sophomore at Texas State University was found unresponsive on the morning of November 13, 2017, after attending initiation for his fraternity the night before. Few details have emerged about his death, but toxicology reports did indicate his blood alcohol level was 0.38. The university had been investigating the chapter after other allegations of misconduct earlier in the school year. Immediately following the tragic death, the fraternity’s national organization suspended the chapter, and the university’s president suspended all Greek life activities on campus. The investigation is ongoing.
These are just four of the more than 40 deaths that have occurred as a result of hazing since 2007, according to data gathered by Franklin College Professor Hank Nuwer, who has dedicated much of his career to studying the subject matter.
While hazing dominated headlines in 2017, the history of hazing is far more extensive and not limited to alcohol abuse. Hazing can be traced even earlier than the 1800s with new members of organizations being branded, blindfolded and forced to find their way home, or even submerged in water until they nearly drown. Hitting the news in most recent years are hazing incidents that include, but are certainly not limited to, vomiting and urinating on potential new members, forcing potential new members to eat rotten food, paddling, and scavenger hunts.
In 2010, two women seeking membership in a sorority at East Carolina University were killed in a car accident after the driver fell asleep. Potential members of the sorority were allegedly denied sleep, and that sleep deprivation led to that fatal car crash.
In 2013, an 18-year-old student at Baruch College took part in a fraternity ritual where he was blindfolded while others tackled and beat him. During the brutal game, Deng fell to the ground, hitting his head and becoming unconscious. He was taken to a nearby hospital, placed on life support and later died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head and traumatic asphyxia.
In March 2018, a sorority was banned from LeHigh University after members hosted a lewd scavenger hunt that involved drugs, alcohol, sexual activity and other misconduct.
Hazing Outside Of Greek Life
Though hazing and Greek life may seem synonymous with one another, it is critical to note that hazing has and continues to occur in non-Greek organizations as well.
In 2003, 12 high school women and three high school men in Illinois faced misdemeanor battery charges following an off-campus powderpuff football game—an event some called an “initiation” of the junior women into their senior year by current seniors. The Glenbrook North High School juniors were videotaped chugging beer from kegs, while seniors physically abused the juniors, threw items including blood, buckets and trash at them, smeared fecal matter on them, among other acts. Though only 15 students had charges filed against them, 31 students were suspended and later expelled.
In 2014, The Ohio State University marching band rocked headlines with the revelation of numerous sexual hazing incidents, in addition to harassment and alcohol abuse. New members were given sexually explicit nicknames, each with inappropriate and offensive meanings. Groping was common and new members were also required to mimic sexual acts under the watch of the band director, Jonathan Water, who was fired after the investigation.
Hazing On The Big Screen
Hazing is no stranger to Hollywood, with the topic hitting big screens and appearing in many family favorite TV programs.
The popular 2000s television show, 7th Heaven, sheds light on hazing in season three. When one of Matt Camden’s (Barry Watson) college friend Kevin (Steve Monroe) attempted to join a fraternity, he was forced to do pushups and consume obscene amounts of alcohol. He was nearly left for dead in his vehicle, when a fraternity member called Matt for help. Kevin was taken to the hospital, where the tending physician said Kevin’s blood alcohol level was nearly five times the legal limit—an amount with a 50 percent survival rate, according to the physician.
The 2016 drama GOAT with James Franco and Nick Jonas portrays the disturbing and dangerous hazing culture on college campuses with scenes of hazing during “Hell Week” for members pledging a fraternity. The list of hazing incidents is quite extensive, including forcing members to drink alcohol until they vomit, forcing members into a cage while fraternity brothers urinated on them, covering pledge members hands and entire faces with duct tape, requiring pledge members to wrestle one another in what appears to be feces, in addition to multiple other lewd, physical and dangerous acts. While the Hollywood drama may seem hyperbolic, the graphic scenes are unfortunately not far from the truth of what has happened and continues to happen on many college campuses.
Unfortunately, the examples in this article are just a handful of the countless incidents of hazing which have been discovered. Garnering more and more media attention, the call for action is heard loud and clear more than ever before, as is evident with 38 of 55 states in the U.S. outlawing hazing, numerous inter/national organizations stripping charters from guilty chapters, and many college and university officials banning Greek life activities on campuses altogether.
Hazing Is Our Problem
Hazing is not a problem specific to one organization. It is not a problem specific to men’s fraternities, and it is not a problem specific to Greek life. It is not a problem specific to one university or just to college campuses. The incidents in this article could have happened on any campus and in any organization. We are one with our peers and what impacts them, impacts us. Hazing is not their problem—hazing is our problem, and it is a problem we must all recognize and have the courage to stop.
Hazing & AOII
Hazing is not in conformity with the rituals of Alpha Omicron Pi, nor does it project an image of sisterhood and fraternal love. AOII’s position on hazing is clear. Our policy (available on the AOII website) clearly defines hazing and includes a list of more than 25 activities that are identified as hazing and will not be tolerated, such as sleep deprivation, paddling, use of alcohol or controlled substances, indecent exposure and more. The policy includes information regarding hazing education, documentation, reporting and sanctions.
As the policy states, no chapter or member of AOII shall encourage, authorize, ratify or engage in conduct or omissions which is, or may be classified as hazing, relative to any of its new members, nor relative to any individual by any other collegiate fraternity or other organization.
What does that mean? Alpha Omicron Pi has zero tolerance for hazing of any AOII members or new members. Additionally, AOII has zero tolerance for hazing of members of other organizations by AOII members.
While the policy is clear, members may find themselves questioning if they are participating in acts of hazing. AOII has outlined a list of common sense questions to help identify situations of hazing. Will initiated members of the organization refuse to participate with the new members and do exactly what they are being asked to do? Is there risk of injury or a question of safety? Would you object if the activity were featured in the school newspaper or on a local TV news program? Would you have any reservations about describing and justifying the activity to your parents, to a professor or the chancellor? Would you have any reservation in inviting the executive director of Alpha Omicron Pi to participate in the event or activity? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the activity is likely hazing and not permissible.
With a clear understanding of hazing and AOII’s stance on hazing, how will we, as members of AOII, as members of a sorority, as members of the Greek community, as college students, as graduates, as individuals change this narrative?
“Today, our message to host institutions, and particularly to our student life colleagues, is that we want to partner with you. Student safety is too important for us to do anything other than work together,” said NPC Chairman Carole Jones, Alpha Delta (U of Alabama) in a recent message about campus safety. “We’ve always known that rules alone are not sufficient, so we must create cultures where students advocate for one another. We believe this can happen, and we believe it can happen in ways that also respect the rights of students.”
Women of Alpha Omicron Pi shall encourage a spirit of fraternity love among its members; to stand at all times for character, dignity, scholarship and college loyalty; to strive for and support the best interests of the colleges and universities in which chapters are installed; and in no way to disregard, injure or sacrifice those interests for the sake of the prestige or advancement of the Fraternity or any of its chapters.
The Object of the Fraternity is a guiding light for each member and can help guide us through many areas, including hazing.
Hazing does not encourage a spirit of fraternity and love. AOII members will not stand for hazing, rather for character, dignity, scholarship and college loyalty. Hazing does not support the best interests of our chapters; hazing is blatant disregard and injury to the prestige and advancement of our organization.
“Just as it’s on us all to fight sexual assault, it’s also on us all to fight against hazing, alcohol abuse and dangerous social cultures on college campuses,” Jones said. “Simply put, sorority women must be more engaged as advocates in this fight.”
Members of Alpha Omicron Pi should not stand for hazing, but against it. How can you do that? If you suspect hazing on your campus, report it. If you hear about hazing on campus, report it. If you see a member of an organization being hazed, call for help. If you question someone’s well-being, call for help. If someone confides in you about hazing, report it. Unfortunately, hazing is often reported when it is too late, and damage cannot be undone. Remembering the characteristics of hazing can help you quickly identify when someone is being hazed and it should be reported immediately—not in a few hours, not tomorrow, not next week—immediately.
If you see something, you need to say something. You might just save a life.
Suspect hazing in your chapter or on your campus?
Access the AOII Hazing Hotline form under the ‘Policies’ tab of the ‘About’ section of the AOII website. All information submitted remains confidential, and your identity is not released to any parties. You can also report hazing in your community through the Greek Anti-Hazing Hotline. Dial 1-888-NOT-HAZE (1-888-668-4293) or complete the report form at fraternallaw.com/contact/anti-hazing-hotline.
*As defined in the Oxford Dictionary.