Their Brothers' Keepers?
updated 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Such pointless brutality is not unique to Gallaudet. Though colleges have tried to crack down on fraternity hazing in recent years, degrading and sometimes racist initiation activities are still common, In many schools hazing has gone underground, where it is more likely to be abusive," says Eileen Stevens, 52, who founded the Committee to Halt Useless College Killings after her son Chuck, 20, died of alcohol poisoning in a 1978 hazing incident at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. A few students have broken the code of silence and offer a glimpse of this dangerous and demeaning rite of passage.
In a forced drinking contest, the 'winner' is almost a fatality
Dennis Jay, 21, first realized he had problems when he opened his eyes in the intensive care unit at Bloomington (Ind.) Hospital. He had tubes in his nose, needles in his arms and a ventilator hose down his throat. "I'm thinking, 'Man, I must have drunk a lot,' " he says. " 'This is gonna be trouble.' "
He was right. His trouble had actually begun the night before, on Jan. 28, 1992, at a pledge initiation party at Indiana University's Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. First he and 19 other pledges were stripped to their underwear, blindfolded and paraded around the fraternity house while sorority girls tugged on their shorts and wrote on their bodies with Magic Markers. Then they were forced to drink from "beer bongs"—containers with a funnel bottom from which malt liquor was poured down their throats through a plastic tube. "The rule was once you threw up you could take your blindfold off and stop doing bongs," Jay says.
But Jay couldn't seem to throw up, even though the mall liquor was getting progressively stronger as cheap wine was mixed in. Eventually Jay was the only pledge standing—and that meant only one thing: "victory shots of whiskey. Finally, as he tried to get dressed, he fell on his face and blood gushed from his nose.
By the time his fiat brothers got Jay to the hospital 30 minutes later, he was in a coma. His blood alcohol content was .48 (.50 is usually fatal), his temperature was 93 degrees, and he could barely breathe. It took seven hours for him to regain consciousness.
At the urging of several fraternity brothers who visited him in the intensive care unit, Jay at first stonewalled university officials about the incident. But when his "brothers" told investigators he was an alcoholic loser who stumbled into the frat house in dire need of medical help, he decided to tell the truth. "I was gelling trashed all over," he says. The university promptly shut the fraternity down for a year.
Jay transferred to Holy Cross College in South Bend, Ind., where he is doing considerably better than at Indiana U. His grade point average is up from 1.8 to 3.3, and he has no desire to join a fraternity. "What kind of system forces people to run around naked, behave like morons and drink too much?" he says. "It's the most immature thing in the world."
Hell Night at Ole Miss lives up to its name
John Gourley and Donovan Bassett, both 20, knew that being invited to join the University of Mississippi's M Club, a select group of some 70 lettered athletes, meant they would be big men on campus. The M Club had all the trappings of a Greek-letter fraternity but even more prestige. Among other things, it named the annual homecoming court. So Gourley, an apprentice trainer for football and baseball, and Bassett, a 400-meter hurdler on the track team, suffered along with 20 other prospective M Club members during a grueling initiation week in October 1992. For six consecutive nights, each initiate was required to do 400 to 500 push-ups and sit-ups during a Two-hour period. "I got pretty strong that week," says Gourley.
Strength, however, was no help on the seventh and final night—Hell Night. The initiates were blindfolded. paraded outside in freezing rain and forced to kneel in mud while their M Club elders pelted them with eggs and a liquid potion that included vinegar, fish bait lure, deer scent and shaving cream. "It smelled really bad, and my face started burning," says Gourley. Adds Bassett: "I screamed out that my eyes were burning, but they told me, 'Just a few more minutes.' "
When Gourley got into the shower at his dorm an hour later, he discovered that his left cheek had been chemically burned and his left ear was festering with blisters. Bassett, who lived in a different dorm, noticed dark spots all over his face, which he at first thought might have been caused when he bumped into a tree blindfolded. Then his skin started peeling off on his washcloth. Gourley and Bassett were both treated for second-degree burns that night at a local hospital.
The next morning, several officers of the M Club sheepishly admitted to school officials that they had violated a campus ban on hazing. The M Club, which had just come off a year's probation for hazing, was disbanded for three years. And 21 upperclassmen who participated in Hell Night were placed on university probation.
Gourley's ear has since healed, and his anger has likewise subsided. "It's just one of those bad episodes in life," he says. But Bassett was scarred for life. "I have two spots on my face that will always be there," he says. "That's not right."
Students blow the whistle on a frat party with ugly racial overtones
Hagen Scherberger, 19, a sophomore at Rider College in Lawrenceville, N.J., was puzzled one day last January when his roommate, Sabato Agathangelou, asked to borrow baggy jeans to wear at a Phi Kappa Psi party for new pledges. When he asked what was going on, Scherberger recalls Agathangelou replying that the frat was having "Dress Like a Nigger Night." "I guess he figured dressing in baggy clothes, like rap stars, was stereotypically black," says Scherberger. (Agathangelou could not be reached for comment.) Scherberger, who is while, refused to lend his clothes. "The whole idea got under my skin," he says. And when other guys in the dorm who had pledged Phi Kappa Psi said they had to paint X's on their foreheads and act like Steppin Fetchit during the initiation rites, Scherberger and a friend, Louis Colombo, 20, wrote a letter of complaint that prompted college officials to close down the fraternity and suspend pledge master John Guerriero for one year. "The incident was degrading," says Tahira Azia, 19, one of about 200 African-American students at Rider.
Whistle-blowers Scherberger and Colombo were surprised by the hostile reaction they received from some students. Scherberger says there were verbal death threats, and Colombo adds, "We got spit at, pushed, shoved." Still, they believe they did the right thing. "People keep saying it's hard to do what you think is right," says Colombo. "But it should be harder to do what you think is wrong."
BILL SHAW in South Bend, RON RIDENHOUR in Oxford. ANDREA FINE in Lawrenceville and MARIA EFTIMIADES in New York City