Hazing in Connecticut Universities: Not Okay
Fraternities and sororities are a ubiquitous part of the university experience. At many colleges, the Greek system makes up a large part of campus social life, and there can be tremendous pressure on new students to join a fraternal organization. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to Greek life that was ignored for a long time. Hazing has recently garnered national attention, with high-profile cases still happening around the country.
What Is Hazing?
The legal definition of hazing is a humiliating or abusive form of initiation that is required to become a member of a group. On the surface, the behavior or ritual may seem voluntary, but failure to engage in the activity will result in expulsion or the threat of expulsion. “Hazing” is any willful action or situation that risks the hazed person’s mental or physical well-being. Acts of hazing can include striking, beating, maiming, humiliating, or forcing consumption of alcohol or drugs.
The prevalence of hazing on college campuses has been debated. According to a recent report from the Economist, there have been 40 hazing-related deaths in the past decade. The article included the story of an 18-year-old LSU student who died after a night of hazing that involved being doused in hot sauce and mustard and being forced to drink 190-proof alcohol. His autopsy revealed he died from “acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration,” with a blood-alcohol level of 0.495 grams per 100ml, equal to consuming 24 standard shots.
Another recent example involves the hazing death of a 19-year-old at Penn State. After taking part in a drinking ritual known as the gauntlet, the student stumbled head-first down a flight of stairs. Other members of the fraternity dragged him to a sofa and threw water in his face in an attempt to revive him, but security footage reveals that he was left alone to stumble and fall repeatedly, eventually falling to the ground and clutching his stomach. By the time he was taken to an emergency room, he had suffered traumatic injuries to his head and spleen. He died in the ICU a day later.
Does Hazing Happen at “Good” Schools?
As we learn more about hazing, we’re finding that it is a problem everywhere, including expensive private schools such as Ivy League universities.
An event that took place at Ithaca-based Cornell University illustrates another hazing that led to tragic results. Two brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were “kidnapped” and brought to a secret location, tied to chairs, and forced to down shots of alcohol. It was intended to be a fun activity, but it resulted in one brother’s death from alcohol poisoning.
More illicit behavior was brought to light when Andrew Lohse, a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Dartmouth, New Hampshire, wrote an article in the school newspaper detailing many examples of hazing behavior he had been witness to. The acts he wrote about included being forced to swim in a kiddie pool full of various bodily substances that we will not speak of here (but you can read about if you click this link); chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; and other abuses.
Hazing is now illegal in at least 44 states, but that has not stopped it from affecting schools around the country. Even Yale has been caught up in the epidemic. A few years ago, the New Haven school was hit with a Title IX investigation after fraternity members on campus marched around chanting offensive and misogynist statements, such as “No means yes! Yes means anal!”
What Rights Do Victims Have?
While hazing is clearly against the law in Connecticut, prosecuting these cases can be challenging. The first problem is the organizations charged with hazing often have a “code of silence” that compels members to withhold testimony and refuse to cooperate with authorities. A second factor is that hazing can be hard to prove. If someone dies of alcohol poisoning or injuries associated with being intoxicated, the question of how complicit he was in his own death will certainly be raised.
Victims need a legal team experienced with the issues surrounding hazing. These cases can take several years to resolve, and require a great deal of investigation and evidence-gathering. Expert witnesses will need to be consulted. The fraternities and individuals that have been accused will typically have powerful insurance companies and attorneys on their side.
But make no mistake, it is possible to win hazing cases, and victims and their families should take courage from these successful outcomes. When tragedy strikes, no amount of money or compensation will ever make up for your loss and emotional devastation, but by holding guilty individuals and organizations accountable, it is possible to affect change and help prevent hazing in the future. If you have been the victim of an on-campus assault or abuse, speak to Naizby Law. Your consultation is free, (203) 245-8500, and we will let you know your best options for recovery.
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For over 20 years, John has exclusively represented people (not corporations).
John has received the America’s Top 100 Attorneys Lifetime Achievement Award.
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