With college students across the country back in school, many of them look forward to frat parties filled with kegs of beer, “Animal House” antics and lots of casual hook-ups. But there is a dark side to some of these Greek societies. As described by Andrew Lohse in Rolling Stone magazine, his Dartmouth hazing for Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) included swimming in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food; eating omelets made of vomit; and drinking beer poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks.” As he said later, “One of the things I’ve learned ... is that good people can do awful things to one another for absolutely no reason.”
Some consider hazing to be like a gang initiation. Others, a test of courage. Some say it is just harmless pranks. Or, as one blogger wrote on the Yale Daily News, “I've always contented that the brotherly camaraderie of frat members is akin to Stockholm Syndrome.” Where is the line between a bonding “rite of passage” and degrading abuse? Click ahead for some recent cases where hazing went wrong.
University of Florida
Earlier this year, nine students in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at the University of Florida were accused of striking pledges with paddles while performing calisthenics. If convicted, they could face up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
An interesting question is why people put up with hazing. Theories range from peer pressure to wanting to belong; for others, joining a Greek organization is a social necessity in a small college town. For those underage, it’s the availability of alcohol. But as a brother from SAE told Rolling Stone, "Having a 3.7 and being the president of a hard-guy frat is far more valuable than having a 4.0 and being independent when it comes to going to a place like Goldman Sachs. And that corporate milieu mirrors the fraternity culture."
In 2011, George Desdunes died after a hazing prank went wrong. The SAE pledge from Cornell was bound and asked trivia questions about the fraternity. If he got an answer wrong, he had to slam a shot of vodka. After passing out, Desdunes was carried back to his room, where he never woke up.
California Polytechnic State University
In 2010, Carson Starkey, a freshman pledging SAE at California Polytechnic State University, drank a lot of liquor while his frat brothers chanted, “Puke and rally!” Carson subsequently passed out. Fearing arrest, the frat brothers placed him on a mattress at his house, where he died. (The New York Times)
Florida A&M University
In 2011, 13 fellow students from Florida A&M University’s elite Marching 100 band beat drum major Robert Champion on a bus so badly that he went into hemorrhagic shock and died. The terrible irony is that Champion was crusading against the hazing that took place. Fourteen arrests were made and it would “expose a violent culture in the band that had festered for years.” (Orlando Sentinel) Dates for a trial are still being discussed. The band was suspended for one year, the band director retired, and Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered all state universities to examine their hazing policies.
More recently, on Sept. 4, 2012, the university suspended a student dance group (Torque Dance Team) after receiving a tip that members were involved in an off-campus hazing incident. No word on what the hazing entailed.
California State University Chico
In 2005, Matthew Carrington died while pledging Chi Tau during “Hell Week.” He was forced to do calisthenics, push-ups and answer trivia for hours in a basement with leaked raw sewage. Over a door it was written, “In the basement nobody can hear you scream.” According to NPR, he drank over and over from a five-gallon water jug, urinated and vomited on himself, and finally had a seizure. He died from water intoxication. His death prompted Matt’s Law, which allows felony prosecution for serious hazing abuse in the state of California.
In 2008, pledges at Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house were repeatedly burned with hot water, cayenne pepper and vinegar during a “Hell Night” ritual. According to CNN, two pledges were treated for severe burns. One had second and third-degree burns on his back, chest, buttocks and genitals. Ten fraternity members face felony battery charges, punishable up to 15 years in prison. The fraternity is also no longer recognized by the university. However, per Inside Hazing, the district attorney’s office dismissed the case without comment, leaving only a federal personal injury lawsuit.
According to Alexandra Robbins, who wrote “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities,” a girl named Akira had to answer trivia questions and drink vodka when she got a question wrong. “They were also presented with a sharpie, a knife, a hammer and a dildo and the sisters said if they got enough wrong they would be violated with one of those four.” (ABC News) Alexandra also reported that the worst kind of emotional hazing she saw among sororities was “boob ranking,” where the sisters forced pledges to strip and line up in order of breast size. Adding to this is “circle the fat” where pledges stand in their underwear and allow their “sisters” to circle the parts of her body that need improvement. “Mean Girls,” anyone?
University of Vermont
In 1999, a local hockey player named Corey LaTulippe tried out for the Vermont men’s hockey team. He later sued the school due to hazing. He alleged that freshmen were forced to drink shots of liquor by passing them to each other mouth-to-mouth and to perform the “elephant walk,” where men walk naked in physical contact with each other while holding on to each others' genitals.
In 2010, Yale became the subject of a federal Title IX investigation -- a complaint that could cost the university $500 million in federal funds -- after a group of students accused the school of creating a hostile environment for women. Pledges of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon paraded near Old Campus chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and “My name is Jack, I’m a necrophiliac, I f--- dead women.” Some students were blindfolded while being led in a line. (Yale Daily News) Afterwards, the fraternity apologized to the Yale Women’s Center, but it wasn’t enough to stop the investigation.
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According to the FreeRepublic.com, in April of this year, police found five nearly naked college students shivering, tied together with duct tape and covered with flour, coffee grinds, fish sauce, chili sauce, honey, hot sauce, mustard and empty sardine cans. They also had red welts on their backs indicating they might have been beaten. The students were pledging an underground fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi. There were no arrests at the time.