No Hazing/Pledging Deaths in 2015

As of today, it has been 13 months since the last college student died due to hazing or pledging activities. It looks like 2015 could be a year without a hazing/pledging death.

Does that mean that we have solved the issue of death due to hazing? Of course not. 2014 had seven hazing/pledging deaths, several of which are currently working their way through the civil court process. The courts are also in the midst of processing criminal charges related to the death of Michael Deng (Pi Delta Psi/Baruch College CUNY) in 2013.

While it is encouraging to make it through 2015, we really need to see several years with no deaths to claim progress. I am confident that much of the work to address hazing has been impactful. However, it is also likely that the increased attention paid to fraternities, and the high-profile hazing cases may have an impact.

We also need to be aware that additional information can arise from civil lawsuits related to incidents we are not aware of at a later date. In the past couple of years we have seen cases added to the list two or more years after the fact.

It is also important to note that there are still several other issues that need our attention in the fraternity/sorority world. This year-end list of “worst bro moments” from The New York Daily News has some examples.

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No Hazing/Pledging Deaths in Spring 2015

As we reach the end of the Spring Semester, it appears that there have been no hazing/pledging deaths among college students thus far in 2015. It looks like Spring 2010 was the last time we had a death-free semester.

However, there were two deaths, that I am aware of, that are worth tracking to see if additional information may connect them to hazing or pledging activities:

  1. On Wednesday, March 18th, Charlie Terrini, Jr. was found dead (The Daily Gamecock) at an off-campus house used by the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at the University of South Carolina. Local police have said that the death is “suspicious” and the chapter has been suspended by the national organization and the school. Some reports have indicated that he was pledging the fraternity (Cosmopolitan), and the previous evening was a “big brother” activity. It was also St. Patrick’s Day. The Coroner’s report indicated that he died from “toxic” blood alcohol level (The State). I have seen very little follow-up in the news regarding this death, and the connection to a “big brother” activity is tenuous.
  2. In April, Damian Parks, a student at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida drowned in a late-night incident. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the university was investigating to see if hazing was involved. He was caught in a current while swimming with a group of five at 3:00 in the morning. All five were members of a campus stepping team. Reports indicate that alcohol may be involved. Based on the article, it is unlikely that this was hazing, but more likely late night partying among friends.

Traditionally, the Fall Semester is deadlier when it comes to hazing/pledging. Hopefully the increased efforts to address serious hazing, and the increased awareness and publicity surrounding these activities, can keep 2015 clear of any hazing/pledging deaths for the first time, in a very long time.

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Court Papers Provide Details on SUNY-Albany Fraternity Death from November

The Times Union newspaper has an article with details surrounding the death of Trevor Duffy at SUNY-Albany in November. It indicates that the cause of death was alcohol poisoning, and that Duffy had consumed a 60 ounce bottle of Vodka the night he was found unconscious. He died two days later. The documents were filed is support of an appeal by two students who had been expelled from the University, and were seeking to be readmitted. A total of 24 students were sanctioned (not all expelled), and the University determined that hazing was the cause of death.

The article also covers the nature of the underground fraternity. It had evolved from an earlier chapter of Zeta Phi Beta that had been closed in 1997, yet continued to operate underground, and call themselves ZBT. A recognized chapter of Zeta Beta Tau was returned to the college in 2011, and some of the students indicated confusion with two groups operating with the same name. The recognized chapter has no connection to the underground group.

The article also covers other examples of hazing within the group. Duffy’s family has indicated that they will be bringing a civil lawsuit against the University, its board of trustees, the city, and others.

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Lawsuit Filed in Clemson/Sig Ep Death from September 2014

The family of Tucker Hipps has filed a lawsuit against Clemson University, Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity, the South Carolina Beta Chapter and three members. The State newspaper has details of the suit, and links to the documents filed. The statements in the suit seem to match some of the rumors from around the time of Tucker’s death.

Disclaimer: The rest of this post is my personal opinion. I am not a lawyer, and the only legal education I have is two graduate-level courses in Higher Education Law.

While it is not explicitly spelled out in the suit, there appear to be entry points in the situation that could increase the exposure of both Clemson and Sig Ep National. The suit indicates that Clemson had decided two days prior to the death to temporarily suspend all fraternity new member activities due to drinking and hazing concerns. That suspension was to go into effect at 5:30 pm on the day that Tucker died on a run that began at 5:30 am. The question will be on why there was a delay in implementing the suspension when the concerns were so dire.

The entry point for increased liability for Sig Ep National is that the Clemson chapter was a “pledging” chapter, and had not accepted and implemented the fraternity’s “Balanced Man Program (BMP).” Sig Ep has had the BMP at the majority of its chapters for several years, and their data shows that it makes a notable difference in addressing risky behavior, and cuts down on insurance claims. During that time, Sig Ep has allowed several chapters to continue as “pledging” chapters, and not utilize the new program. The question that will need to be answered here is how can they allow chapters to operate in a risky manner when they have a solution to the problem already implemented at other chapters. This may raise the “duty of care” doctrine of negligence.

Unless the attorney for Hipps can overcome the inevitable petition to be removed from the case by Clemson and Sig Ep national, this is another case that is unlikely to see a courtroom.

As we look to the future of the fraternity/sorority world, it would actually be beneficial for the questions related to Sig Ep National and Clemson reached a court decision, and review upon appeal. This case will be closely watched.

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Pi Kappa Alpha Death at University of South Carolina

While I haven’t been posting much lately, I do want to continue to use this site to track deaths that could potentially be connected to pledging.

On Wednesday, March 18th, Charlie Terrini, Jr. was found dead (The Daily Gamecock) at an off-campus house used by the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at the University of South Carolina. Local police have said that the death is “suspicious” and the chapter has been suspended by the national organization and the school. Some reports have indicated that he was pledging the fraternity (Cosmopolitan), and the previous evening was a “big brother” activity. It was also St. Patrick’s Day.

There is not enough information available yet, but it is looking like we may have the first hazing/pledging death of 2015.

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New UVA Alcohol Policies are Dated and Confusing (at least to me)

Earlier today, the University of Virginia released their Fraternal Organization Agreement Addendum of Inter_fraternity Council (IFC) Fraternities. You can find links to the Fraternal Organization Agreement, and new addenda covering the other three councils at this link, but this blog will focus on the IFC addendum. The Washington Post, along with many others (The Daily Cavalier, Huffington Post), has an article with some thoughts and comments.

As a couple of my colleagues have noted, this new agreement brings UVA fraternities to a level of policy consistent with FIPG from about 20 years ago. It also explicitly encourages behavior that violates virtually every national fraternity risk management policy, and thus supports behavior that would invalidate insurance coverage should an incident occur. It may also increase liability exposure to the University.

As some of the articles have noted, there is no mention of underage drinking in this agreement. In my opinion, it would be very smart of the University in particular, and the fraternities as well, to explicitly state that underage drinking is prohibited in these organizations. National fraternities already state in their policies that underage drinking is prohibited, and it is usually specifically stated as an activity that will revoke organizational insurance coverage.

Among my other questions:

  1. It appears that the addendum only covers fraternity house parties, and does not apply to third-party, off-site, events. What policies apply for those events? Are they required to be registered?
  2. Why are their two tiers of parties? Why does it matter if their are an equal number of guests, or more guests than members?
  3. It appears that the tiers are actually intended to differentiate between events with a hired bartender and BYOB events? If so, those types of events have very different expectations for hosts, and are covered by most fraternity policies.
  4. Although I have inferred that Tier II parties re BYOB, there is no indication that BYOB policies and procedures are expected. If not, who is purchasing the alcohol and funding the party? It states that at Tier II parties, individuals are allowed to bring their own hard alcohol to be left at a central bar and distributed by a sober brother. That is also a direct violation of most (probably all) national fraternity policies. (By the way, what training do these sober brothers have to oversee this designated central bar?)
  5. The policy also requires “sober brother monitors” for these house parties. How are these individuals trained? Who provides oversight for them? Why would anyone accept the personal liability of serving in this role?
  6. The policy explicitly prohibits common containers, pre-mixed drinks, kegs, etc. Has any national fraternity policy allowed these in the past twenty years?

I guess it is good to see UVA make a move toward implementing proven alcohol parties for fraternity house parties. On the other hand, it would probably make more sense to go all the way and fully implement policies that are consistent with existing policies of the national fraternities. What they appear to have with this implementation is a set of policies that are less strict than the national organizations. This results in the local chapters likely operating outside of their national policies (and thus not covered by insurance), and the university enforcing policies that are outdated.

Oh, and by the way, none of this appears to address the concerns raised by the Rolling Stone article, nor do they appear to be connected to the reasoning behind the shut down of fraternity activities since November.

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Notable Fraternity Deaths in 2014

Below are eight notable deaths involving fraternities in 2014. Most of them involve new members, or pledges, and the death may be connected to their pledging process. This list will not include other accidents, natural causes, or deaths unrelated to the fraternity membership. Seven of these deaths have been included in the data on my list of hazing/pledging deaths since 2000. Whether hazing/pledging was involved in the deaths of Dalton Debrick and Tucker Hipps is still uncertain with some people. I have included them due to the nature of the description of the events.

1) March 14, 2014
Penn State – Altoona
Altoona, PA
Phi Sigma Kappa

Marquise Braham, an 18-year-old Penn State – Altoona freshman, died after jumping off a hotel roof while home on Spring Break. It was ruled a suicide, and the family claims that it was connected to hazing activities while he was a new member, and his involvement in hazing as a newly-elected officer.

2) July 1, 2014
California State – Northridge
Northridge, CA
Pi Kappa Phi

Armando Villa, 19, died of heat exhaustion when he, and other pledges, were taken on an 18 mile hike in the Angeles National Forest. He was given a small amount of water, poor fitting clothes, and his cell phone was taken from him as he started the walk. A CSUN investigation determined that his death was caused by hazing, and the chapter has been closed.

3) August 24, 2014
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX
Alpha Sigma Phi

Dalton Debrick, 18 and an incoming freshman, died of alcohol poisoning following a party while pledging the Alpha Sigma Phi colony. He died before classes had begun. The national organization ended the colonization efforts after investigating.

4) September 2
Clemson University
Clemson, SC
Sigma Phi Epsilon

Update – The family of Tucker Hipps has filed a civil lawsuit in South Carolina. The State newspaper has details.

Tucker Hipps, was on an early morning run with other new members and actives when he went missing. His body was found near a bridge near campus, and he died from blunt force trauma. It is believed that he fell from the bridge. Rumors on campus called it hazing, but the local authorities did not agree that it was hazing.

5) September 5, 2014
Lincoln, NE

Clayton Real, 18, died of alcohol poisoning following an off-campus party coordinated by the chapter’s pledge educator. Four individuals have been charged criminally in connection with his death.

6) November 9, 2014
UC Berkeley (student from UC Davis)
Berkeley, CA
Zeta Psi

Vaibhev Loomba, 20, died of alcohol poisoning after attending a party at the UC-Berkeley Zeta Psi chapter house. The chapter had not been recognized by the University since 2010, yet still retained support and recognition from the national organization. Not hazing or pledging related.

7) November 14, 2014
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV
Kappa Sigma

Nolan Burch died from alcohol poisoning following a big brother/little brother activity. The Kappa Sigma chapter had been shut down two days earlier by the national organization, and placed on probation in October.

8) November 17, 2014
Albany, NY
Underground ZBT

Update The Times Union newspaper has a report on details surrounding this death from court papers filed by two students who had been expelled by the University, and are seeking to be re-admitted. The details are scary.

Trevor Duffy, 19, died of alcohol poisoning following an event at an underground fraternity. The student newspaper described as a big brother/little brother night. Four others at the party were transported to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.

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