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Spring Ushers in a Bloody Hazing Season for Black Frats

Spring Ushers in a Bloody Hazing Season for Black Frats
By Paul Ruffins

This spring, the pattern of illegal hazing that has threatened the survival of Black fraternities and sororities has once again repeated itself with deadly and devastating consequences. In early April, Nashville authorities officially announced what many had suspected for months: The January death of Tennessee State University student Joseph Green had been the result of an underground pledging process by the university’s Omega Psi Phi chapter. 
Green, 25, collapsed while jogging on the track of Whites Creek High School on an early morning in late January. He was taken to a nearby medical center in cardio-pulmonary distress and had a temperature of 103.7 before he died. 
When the results of the police and forensic investigation were released, the official cause of Green’s death was listed as exercise, environmentally induced hypothermia and acute asthma attack as a result of “exercise during fraternity initiation.” This is Omega’s second hazing death at TSU. In November of 1983, 20-year-old Vann L. Watts also died trying to pledge the same chapter. His body was covered with bruises as a result of being beaten with switches, and he had a blood-alcohol level more than five times the legal limit.
Kappa Alpha Psi’s violent history of hazing also has repeated itself. On two different campuses, Kappa pledges were hospitalized with injuries that were virtually identical to those suffered by pledges in a 1999 Kappa hazing incident at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
In late March at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., an 18-year-old Kappa pledge, who had been on line for at least 50 days, experienced chest pains, collapsed and stopped breathing. After he was hospitalized, the medical staff noticed extensive bruises on his hands and buttocks, and the resulting criminal investigation revealed the typical pattern of beatings and abuse. In a written statement to the police, one of the fraternity’s other two pledges said they had been offered the choice of joining the fraternity by becoming a “paper” member and going through the official process or by pledging, which would entail “mental, physical and emotional abuse” but “would grant you all of the respect, benefits and privileges of the organization.” The pledges willingly chose the abuse, which also may have involved being beaten by Kappas from Norfolk State University.

Openly Defiant
One of the most troubling aspects of this year’s cases is how similar they seem to previous hazing incidents, as if all the efforts of Black Greek Letter organizations to eradicate hazing have had little or no impact at all. In January, Ohio State University suspended its Alpha Phi Alpha chapter because two students needed medical treatment as a result of unauthorized intake sessions conducted last fall. Many White fraternities also seem to have experienced an upsurge in hazing.
“If anything, it seems that the students have become even more openly defiant,” says Dr. Walter Kimbrough, vice president for student affairs at Albany State University in Georgia. “I have recently given talks about hazing where students have directly stood up and talked about pledging and being on line even though they know it’s against all the rules.”
Kimbrough went on to explain that, “…I am very concerned that this latest death may finally push Omega over the financial edge.”
Those fears are well-grounded. Green’s mother has already retained an attorney who is considering a lawsuit. In an article published in January 2000, attorney Doug E. Fierberg — who won a $375,000 University of Maryland case against the fraternity in 1997 — asserted that Omega Psi Phi was no longer able to obtain liability insurance because it had lost so many large settlements.
The idea that students don’t understand how seriously they are threatening the survival of their organizations was seconded by Lawrence Ross, the author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. “I have spoken out against the hazing mentality at over 75 campuses in the past year or so,” Ross says. “But as evidenced by some of the hazing incidents this year, I think that it’s going to take a lawsuit that financially destroys one of the nine before some members change their attitudes. Until we get to the point where some of our members don’t feel they must beat another student in order to make themselves feel powerful, all of our fraternal organizations will live under a 24-hour, 365-day a year vigil against being sued to death.” 

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