After the beating death a year ago of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, Champion’s parents did what other parents have done when faced with a similar loss.
They grieved. They sued. They started a non-profit foundation as a memorial to their son. Its mission: to “eradicate hazing nationwide.”
They have their work cut out for them. Their son’s death may have heightened the nation’s awareness of the dangers and pervasiveness of college hazing, but it hasn’t stopped risky behavior among students:
Police are investigating whether a Fresno (Calif.) State University student who died in August was participating in an alcohol-infused fraternity initiation.
A horse drawn carriage carrying the casket of Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion is lead by his fellow band members following his funeral service Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011.
At Chico State University, where a student died in a hazing incident seven years ago and a student was found dead last week after a night of drinking, the school has suspended Greek activities for the rest of the year, noting problems involving allegations of hazing, sexual assaults and drinking.
Ten members of Texas Southern University’s renowned Ocean of Soul marching band were suspended this fall for paddling new members.
At the State University of New York-Geneseo, where the 2009 alcohol-related death of a student was attributed to hazing, freshmen on the women’s volleyball team were handcuffed, blindfolded and forced to drink hard liquor, court documents allege. Campus officials suspended the women’s volleyball team for the season and eight of 11 students charged with hazing and other misdemeanors accepted a plea agreement last week. A judge described the women’s actions “premeditated, abusive, degrading and life-threatening.”
Hazing is illegal in 44 states. College administrations don’t condone it. And most student organizations have anti-hazing policies on the books. So why is it so persistent?
Anti-hazing activists cite a host of contributing factors, including the secretive nature of hazing, difficult-to-enforce state laws and an acceptance among many students that hazing is part of campus life.
“There’s a new crop of students every four years who don’t really remember the way things were,” says Cornell University student Daniel Robbins. He helped organize a campus student newspaper-sponsored discussion held last week — the same day, as it happened, that the paper reported school officials were investigating allegations that two fraternity pledges who had been hospitalized were involved in hazing.
Hazing — and binge drinking, a related problem — has roiled the Ithaca, N.Y., campus since last year, when sophomore George Desdunes died in a fraternity hazing. Even before then, Cornell officials had prided themselves on their proactive approach to hazing, which included a website where hazing violations are posted publicly and students could report hazing incidents.
“Given our best efforts, we still had a death,” says Travis Apgar, Cornell’s associate dean of students.
Since then, a task force has developed recommendations, which have not yet been approved, to prevent hazing and enforce anti-hazing policies. For example, it calls for live-in advisers at more fraternity houses, incentives focused on academic excellence and random interviews with newly recruited students.
Other colleges, including Yale and Dartmouth, have similarly vowed to toughen up their efforts, typically in response to a recent tragedy or high-profile incident. At Binghamton University in New York, officials last spring took the unusual step of shutting down fraternity and sorority recruitment after receiving what they called “an alarmingly high number of serious hazing complaints.” E-mails obtained by the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin describe reports in which students were forced to vomit on each other, made to do push ups on broken glass or engage in dangerous drinking games
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