College is supposed to be a time of exploration and growth. Young adults leave their parents in order to form their own individual identity and cultivate their own interests. For many, the idea of joining a fraternity or sorority is very appealing.
Those who participate in “Greek life” are drawn to it by the perceived benefits – creating lifelong friendships, constant social events, leadership opportunities, and potential nationwide contacts via other chapters. However, there is a disturbing side to fraternities and sororities: hazing. Tragically, recent hazing events have led to the deaths of several students, including a young man named Trevor Duffy.
Hazing Is A Crime
Under New York State Law, hazing is considered a crime. Anyone participating in hazing events can be charged with either hazing in the first degree or hazing in the second degree. There is only one difference between these two charges – an injury to another person participating in the initiation must have occurred for hazing in the first degree to apply.
The state is also working on additional legislation requiring all colleges and universities to provide education for their students on the dangers of hazing.
One important fact to remember – it doesn’t matter if you agreed to participate in a hazing ritual. Perpetrators can still be held legally responsible for hazing “willing” victims.
In general, most colleges and universities, especially those who have sanctioned fraternities and sororities, have specific rules regarding hazing. One well-known university, Cornell University, provides a list of possible repercussions for violators.
- Oral or written warnings
- Additional educational assignments such as written apologies, reflection papers, and educational papers
- Community Work sanctions
- Academic Probation
Entire fraternities or sororities found to be guilty of hazing new members may be sentenced to attend a compliance program or have their university recognition withdrawn.
Most fraternal and sororal organizations also have their own rules pertaining to hazing. These organizations would rather be associated with academic endeavors and leadership opportunities for their life long members, rather than the “Animal House” like antics that are often portrayed in movies.
So What Exactly Is Hazing?
Hazing is often used as a form of initiation of new members into the sorority or fraternity. There are three categories of hazing – subtle, harassment, and violent.
Subtle hazing is used to stress on pledges the balance of power between the new member and the other older members. It is important to remember that subtle does not mean harmless. Examples of this form of hazing include:
- Name calling
- Isolating new members both physically and socially
- Being given duties that are not necessary or assigned to other members
- Drills and tests
- Forced periods of silence with punishments for violators
Harassment hazing is used to confuse, upset, and vex new members. This can include:
- Sleep deprivation tactics
- Forcing new members to wear embarrassing clothing
- Sexual simulations
- Verbal abuse
- Expecting new members to partake in harassing other new members
Violent hazing could potentially cause long-lasting physical, emotional, or psychological harm and even death.
- Forced consumption of alcohol and drugs
- Assault – including beating or paddling
- Burning or branding
- Forced consumption of disgusting or toxic substances
- Public nudity
- Pressuring new members into committing illegal acts
Trevor Duffy’s Premature Death
Trevor Duffy was a typical college sophomore at the University of Albany at the time of his death. A native of the Bronx, Trevor was a promising student who enjoyed a wide range of activities. Regrettably, Trevor made the decision to pledge at an unsanctioned fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau.
The night of November 15th, 2014, Trevor was one of several young men participating in one of the event nights that new pledges were required to attend. Previous pledge events had the new members performing various exercises while answering questions about the fraternity, a fight club night where pledges were expected to physically beat one another, drinking milk until they vomited, selling marijuana brownies, and eating the insides of a cigar.
On this particular night, Trevor was asked to drink a full handle of vodka. A handle is 60 ounces of alcohol. According to the Blood Alcohol Level Chart, one drink is considered to be 1.5 fl oz of hard liquor, like vodka, and it would take 6 of these drinks for a 240lb man to be considered legally intoxicated with a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.081. By this estimation, that would mean that Trevor consumed 40 drinks in one evening. Per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, severe impairment secondary to alcohol poisoning begins with a BAC of about 0.16, which means that at around 12 drinks Trevor was at risk for death.
Trevor was found by a friend around 1 a.m. on the morning of November the 16th. He was completely unconscious, would not respond to stimulation, and had a bluish color to his pallor. Several fraternity members wasted precious time arguing over whether or not they should call an ambulance and they eventually decided to move Trevor outside so that the police wouldn’t come into the fraternity house and discover the party. After the police and ambulance arrived Trevor and several other students were rushed to the hospital. Tragically Trevor never again regained consciousness, and on November 17th he passed away.
Initially, there was some confusion regarding the fraternity – after Trevor passed away the national headquarters of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity was contacted. They stated that the fraternity where Trevor was hazed is not associated with the organization and is in fact unsanctioned. It turned out that the original ZBT lost its recognition by the national headquarters and the University of Albany in 1997, but it was reinstated with approval from both the headquarters and university in 2011. During the gap years, the unsanctioned group formed and used the name ZBT. Several of Trevor’s fellow pledges indicated that they were confused as to why there were two fraternities with the same name, not realizing that one was unsanctioned and not supported by the national organization or university.
Trevor’s family has pursued a lawsuit against the University of Albany, stating that the university failed to protect the students against hazing.
What Are My Legal Options?
Often, in addition to seeking criminal charges, the victims or loved ones of the victims will also file a civil lawsuit. A civil lawsuit is when the victim of a crime seeks to hold the perpetrator liable for any harm that resulted from the crime. If the lawsuit is successful the victim will be awarded monetary compensation. It may be possible to file a civil suit against both the students initiating the hazing and also the college or university where the hazing took place. If a college or university is found to be negligent, for example failing to educate students on the dangers and legal repercussions of hazing or for failing to prevent hazing events that they had knowledge of, they can be held liable.
In one instance, a university agreed to pay an amount equal to a year’s tuition, room, and board as part of a settlement agreement for a hazing victim.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of hazing while attempting to join a fraternity or sorority, contact an attorney at Banville Law today. The attorneys at Banville Law offer a free initial consultation and will help you determine what your next steps should be.