Hazing deaths spur change in fraternity parties

Fraternity parties at major universities aren’t what the movie Animal House would have you believe, at least not anymore, the New York Times reports.

The Times describes a party for a University of Iowa fraternity that took place in the ballroom at a Hilton Garden Inn, with security guards checking IDs as guests walked in and issuing five drink coupons, in the form of a wristband, to those who were at least 21. The party was over by 10 PM, an hour or so earlier than planned, and resulted in no deaths to students.

That’s different from a fraternity party in April that involved Iowa students at a resort in Missouri, which ended in the death of a 2016 graduate from John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois: Kamil Jackowski. He was 19 when he attended a fraternity party at Camden on the Lake, a resort and restaurant in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and died from binge drinking in what could only be described as a hazing incident.

Other hazing deaths, notably of Timothy Piazza, a freshman pledge at Penn State University, as well as students at Florida State, Penn State, and Texas State universities, have caused universities to take a hard look at Greek life. In many cases, students themselves are leading initiatives to make Greek life more responsible in general.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a 44-page report a little over a year ago about the influence alcohol has on college campuses. Drinking has been linked with negative outcomes like illness, sexual assault, accidental death, and even murder, the report states.

“There is definitely this moment in time where society is not willing to accept behavior that in the past has been acceptable,” the Times quoted Tracy Maxwell, the founder of an anti-hazing organization, as saying about the present movement away from wild and drunk behavior on the part of students in fraternities.

My advice, if you’re a freshman pledge at a fraternity and find yourself drunk, get help. Medical help. Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition and can result in death. This is not a time to be afraid of getting into trouble. That time will come, to be sure, but in that critical hour, get medical help.

I would also add that some states—Maryland comes to mind—allow underage drinking in homes under a parent’s tutelage. Some opponents of this law see it as promoting drinking and as an attempt to end a root cause that isn’t actually the root cause of the drinking problem on college campuses or in social fraternities.

But what it also does is to encourage parents to teach their sons and daughters to drink responsibly. Still, when they find themselves, all of a sudden, with a new “freedom” when they leave home for college at a young age, the social pressures fraternities have been known to place on 18-year-olds can be hard to fight off.

If students are unsuccessful in their efforts to effect meaningful changes, though, these fraternities—these organizations that have nothing to do with teaching, learning, or research, but serve only as outlets for getting drunk, committing sexual assaults, hazing other young adults, and behaving in a rowdy manner but do bring benefits to students—are doomed.

A point can be made that students not involved in fraternities engage in binge drinking as well when they get to college. Maybe the problem is bigger than hazing at fraternities, but for the moment, deaths being widely reported are those at Greek organizations.

And along those lines, more than college-drinking policy may be worthy of review here. If college is to be more than an extension of high school, perhaps it is time to consider weeding out students who don’t advance academically at some of these institutions of higher learning. This could be done by administering a standardized test after, say, the freshman year of college. This could also stem the college indebtedness problem we have.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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