All but three United States Presidents since 1825 were members of fraternities. Eighty-five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were in fraternities or sororities, as were the first female astronaut and the first female senator. Greek life is a staple of American colleges, and many successful people attribute their status to the values and leadership skills they learned through their participation in the Greek system. As recent news shows, however, there are substantial risks associated with participation in the system.
Hazing is a common tool used by older fraternity brothers to initiate new pledge classes. A senior fraternity member told the Huffington Post that the purpose of such activities is to “bring a pledge class together.” Hazing often includes insults, physical violence, harassment, intimidation and abuse, and is usually banned by national fraternity organizations and universities themselves.
The Kappa Sigma fraternity at Wake Forest University had its charter suspended recently following allegations of extreme pledge hazing. Freshmen were allegedly trapped in a basement for extended periods of time, forced to eat from an animal trough and made to sit in each others’ vomit. The university said in a statement that Kappa Sigma was no longer a recognized fraternity at Wake Forest, but members did hope to reclaim their charter in three to five years. Hazing rituals that border on torture are not uncommon in today’s college Greek system.
Last week, Michael Deng, 19, a freshman at New York’s Baruch College, died during a hazing ritual of the fraternity he was pledging. Deng and the other pledges were on a weekend trip to the Poconos with older members of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity when they were forced to complete brutally difficult physical tasks. The pledges were apparently forced to run blindfolded through obstacles while carrying weighted sand bags and being repeatedly pushed and shoved by the older fraternity members.
According to NBC News, when Deng fell and hit his head, the brothers brought him into the house, changed his clothes, and Googled his symptoms instead of calling for help. Deng was unresponsive for at least an hour before the brothers drove him to the hospital, where he died on Monday.
Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Harry Lewis says that the brothers who brought Deng to the hospital tried to hide the fact that he was injured at a fraternity event, sticking to the story that he was hurt while horsing around in the woods. Police are still trying to determine how many Pi Delta Psi brothers escaped back to Baruch before they could be questioned.
The national Pi Delta Psi says that the activities that contributed to Deng’s death were not sanctioned by the organization and has decided to suspend all “new member education” until further notice. Baruch College also said in a statement that the school did not sanction the event and that it, like Wake Forest, has a “zero-tolerance policy” for hazing.
Unfortunately, Deng’s death is not by any means an isolated incident. In November, 2012, a freshman at Northern Illinois University died as a result of an alleged hazing ritual in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The family of 19-year-old David Bodenberger, who died of alcohol poisoning following the ritual, is now suing the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, 22 individual Pi Kappa Alpha brothers, and 16 female participants over David’s death.
Boston College’s refusal to sanction any fraternities or sororities is a common source of contention between a contingent of the student body and the administration. Last March, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity of 68 Boston College undergraduates was given national recognition, but the school itself says it has no intentions of changing its anti-Greek policies. “It is the policy of most Catholic colleges and universities not to recognize fraternities or sororities,” said school spokesman Jack Dunn said.
Though the national charter served to legitimize what was previously known as the “secret underground fraternity,” the lack of recognition by the school is an obstacle the brothers wish to overcome. In an online statement on the fraternity website, President Ryan Nick, A&S, 14, refutes the traditional “frat boy” stereotype.
“Our chapter works hard to promote academic excellence, philanthropic involvement, athletic success and lifelong friendship among brothers. This is in accordance with both the mentality of our Fraternity and the Jesuit ideals of our University,” he says.
While Boston College’s only fraternity maintains its difference from those fraternities facing allegations of extreme hazing, it does not seem as though official recognition from the University can be expected any time soon.
While multiple fraternities across the country are facing criminal charges, lawsuits and charter losses over allegations of unthinkable hazing rituals, Boston College’s first and only fraternity is gaining national legitimacy regardless of the school’s official policies.Featured image via York College of PA/Flickr.