Hazing Incidents Rise on College Campuses

Naomi Scully-Bristol, Op-Ed Editor

On February 27 at Virginia Commonwealth University, Adam Oakes, 19, was found dead at an off-campus house after a fraternity event. A family member said he’d been blindfolded and given alcohol, according to the New York Times. The campus and Richmond police are still investigating his death, and VCU, along with the fraternity’s national organization, has suspended the VCU chapter of the fraternity.

Eight days later, on March 7, Stone Foltz, a student at Bowling Green State University, died after attending a fraternity event where he was likely made to drink alcohol, according to the New York Times. The police are still investigating, the fraternity’s parent organization said it would suspend the Bowling Green chapter, and the Ohio state senate introduced a bill aimed to reduce hazing.

The deaths of Oakes and Stone are part of a dangerous trend of increased hazing incidents, which may result in injury or death.

Graphic by Gabriella Alvarado.

Hazing is “the imposition of strenuous, often humiliating, tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation.” The tasks people are forced to complete to be accepted into groups like sports teams, clubs, fraternities, and sororities, can include being forced to drink alcohol, being beaten, stealing things, forced physical labor, and more. 

Hazing deaths have been a problem for years, with 2020 being the last year since 1958 that a hazing-related death hasn’t occurred. In 2017, at Penn State, a fraternity pledge fell down the stairs while drunk and died. Another student, at the University of California, died from a fatal fall while drunk in 2018. In 2019, a Delaware State University student died and injured three other students after falling asleep at the wheel due to sleep deprivation related to hazing. While no deaths occurred in 2020, students were still hospitalized because of hazing, continuing its negative impact. 

These incidents have been investigated by university officials and the police. Hazing experts see patterns that occur after a hazing death. The victims’ parents are outraged, students mourn, and university leaders promise change, but often little actually changes, and Greek life continues to put students in danger. 

Organizations like HazingPrevention.org and StopHazing are working to create safe school environments free from hazing. At the University of Michigan, Woodson alum Sarah Short had to do three weeks of hazing education, which the university has every member of a Greek life organization do in an attempt to prevent hazing. 

Schools may implement stricter restrictions on alcohol and suspend chapters after hazing incidents, but these reforms are not necessarily enough to address the larger issue. 

Part of the reason Greek life is so hard to reform is that many powerful people were members. In the 117th Congress, 143 members were in Greek life, along with 18 past U.S. presidents. In 2014 after a hazing death, the West Virginia University president, who had been in a fraternity, temporarily shut down Greek life. However, according to Time magazine, he remembered being in a fraternity as a “positive opportunity” and said that fraternities deserve a place on campus even after these issues.