Her Son's Pointless Death Spurs An Angry Mother's War Against Fraternity Hazing
Stenzel and two classmates had been summoned the previous evening to Klan Alpine, a local fraternity where all three were pledges. Each of the boys was given a pint of bourbon, a bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer. Then they were stuffed in the trunk of a car and told they wouldn't be let out until they had drunk all the liquor. When the trunk was opened 40 minutes later, Stenzel was unconscious. Fraternity members put the pledges to bed, but a short while later Chuck was found sprawled on his back, blue from the waist up. His two companions were having difficulty breathing. By the time an ambulance arrived, Chuck was dead. "He died of respiratory failure from exposure to alcohol and cold," pathologist Dr. Paul Kolisch declared furiously. "If the facts are provable, this was manslaughter. This damn fraternity ought to be abolished."
The university did not act swiftly. Indeed, it hardly acted at all. When the Stevenses arrived the following morning at the Rochester airport, 115 miles from the campus, no representative of the school came to meet them. "There was no one from the college at the hospital either," recalls Mrs. Stevens, 39. "I demanded to see my son. They told us to go home and they would send information."
That was a year ago. Since then, Mrs. Stevens has received no formal report from either the college or the Alfred, N.Y. police. Her only knowledge of how her son died came from his friends. Three days after the tragedy, Alfred President M. Richard Rose (now head of the Rochester Institute of Technology) issued a terse statement about Chuck's death: "He died as a result of an overdose of alcohol. Drinking is a serious problem at college campuses in the U.S., and Alfred obviously is not immune." Though Klan Alpine is no longer recognized by the university ("Legally it was the only action we could take," says Dr. King), the fraternity continues to operate.
Mrs. Stevens quit her job as assistant manager of a department store to be at home with her 13-year-old daughter, Suzanne. Crushed by her brother's death, the girl had covered the walls of her room with poems and prayers and was spending hours weeping at the cemetery. Mrs. Stevens resolved to do something about the tragedy. She mailed out more than 700 letters to parents of students at Alfred, demanding closer supervision of fraternity activities. More important, she founded an organization in her son's memory, CHUCK (Committee Halting Useless College Killings), and has gathered some 5,000 signatures to have dangerous hazing classified as a felony in New York state, punishable by up to seven years in prison. "If drugs had been involved in Chuck's death, there would have been a criminal investigation," she says. "I don't want to send people to jail. I just want this never to happen again to anyone."
No legislative remedy, of course, will ever compensate for the loss of her oldest child. "I can't believe I'll never see him again," she says. "There are so many little things that happen. Someone calls and says, 'Hi, is Chuck there?' The IRS sends his tax forms. Your heart stops then. It's devastating to lose a son."