In support of National Hazing Prevention Week, a group of Louisiana colleges and universities have planned a series of events to train a spotlight on the issue of hazing.
Students from Dillard, Southern in Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans, and Xavier University are sponsoring a discussion about hazing with Michael J. Morton, an ex-convict, turned corporate and civic leader, whose life was forever changed as a result of hazing.
According to college officials, Morton will share pivotal moments of his experience and its impact on his life in a lecture on Dillard’s campus on September 24, 2015.
In 2006, Morton was an honors student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Florida A&M University and served as president of the Student Body Senate and two consecutive terms as president of the Alpha Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.
But his life was turned upside down after he and four of his fraternity brothers were charged with hazing. In a nationally publicized trial, he was eventually convicted of hazing and received a two-year prison sentence. The judge in the case said she wanted to send a message with the state’s first prosecution under a felony hazing law.
After serving his sentence, Morton went on to finish his bachelor’s degree at Florida A&M and earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Rutgers University. He was recently appointed to the Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering advisory council for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
Earlier this week, 10 more people were charged in connection with the 2013 hazing death of a New York City college student in 2013.
According to authorities, Baruch College freshman Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, died two years ago from “complications of traumatic brain injury” and suffered injuries during a fraternity ritual on a trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania grand jury recommended various charges for a total of 37 people in connection with the death, as well as the Pi Delta Psi fraternity.
According to police, the Pi Delta Psi fraternity was conducting a ritual outdoors for new pledges called the “glass ceiling.” The objective was for Deng, who was blindfolded and wearing a backpack containing a 30-pound bag of sand, to navigate toward someone who was calling him while other fraternity brothers physically prevented that from happening, said police.
Police said that Deng fell backward, struck his head and was unconscious and unresponsive immediately after he fell. He was carried inside and placed by a fire because his body was cold and wet from the conditions outside. He remained unconscious while members of the fraternity researched his symptoms online and found the closest hospital.
Last week, Florida A&M settled a lawsuit with the family of Robert Champion for $1.1 million. Champion, 26, died in November 2011 following a hazing ritual in Orlando. The university also agreed to issue an apology and rename the marching band’s anti-hazing program after the young man.
“When our son, Robert, was killed, we vowed that we would do everything in our power to make sure that this didn’t happen to another family,” Champion’s parents said in a statement. “We called Robert ‘the example,’ and the positive change that will come as a result of his death will ensure that he did not die in vain.”
Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard who has been outspoken on the issue of hazing for years, said that public attention is needed to reverse this growing trend. He said that over the past decade the nation has witnessed a number of high-profile hazing cases from high schools to colleges, including bands, athletic teams and Greek organizations.
“With almost half of high school students experiencing hazing as a nation we need to view this as a larger public health issue,” he said. “Michael Morton brings something we have not heard: wisdom from someone who actually went to jail for hazing. Gone are the days of a slap on the wrist misdemeanor. People are going to jail now, especially when someone dies due to hazing.”
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson