Anti-Hazing Crusader Sees Improvement, But More Needed
CINCINNATI (AP) _ Eileen Stevens estimates 50 college students have died from fraternity hazing since her son was a victim in 1978.
″You send a young man off to college, you expect him to come home, not to be put through torturous or humiliating circumstances,″ said Ms. Stevens, founder of the Committee to Halt Useless College Killings.
The group’s acronym, CHUCK, serves as a reminder of her son, Chuck Stenzel.
A pledge at a fraternity at Alfred University in New York, Stenzel died of an alcohol overdose during an initiation, according to a coroner’s report. Ms. Stevens, of Sayville, N.Y., settled a $64 million lawsuit out of court and began her campaign to abolish hazing.
She travels frequently, visiting campuses or speaking at seminars such as the annual Fraternal Law Conference in Cincinnati.
About 100 people, mostly lawyers who represent fraternities in lawsuits, are expected at the conference here Friday and Saturday. National and student fraternity leaders and university officials also are invited.
They will look at hazing, alcohol abuse, date rape, racial discrimination and other problems facing fraternities.
Cases persist in which fraternity members require prospective members to perform degrading acts before granting them membership. But fewer incidents have been reported in recent years as national fraternities banned hazing, colleges cracked down and more states passed anti-hazing laws, Ms. Stevens said.
″Statistically, there appear to be a couple of fatalities a year, but I don’t believe that’s accurate,″ said Ms. Stevens, who monitors news reports for hazing incidents. ″Many deaths are listed as accidents, others go unreported and the victims are rarely autopsied.″
Her estimate of 50 hazing deaths since 1978 is accepted by the Indianapolis-based National Interfraternity Conference, the sanctioning body for 59 national fraternities, their 5,275 chapters and 400,000 members on 810 campuses in the United States and Canada.
Last October, Morehouse College in Atlanta suspended a chapter following the death of a pledge who allegedly was shoved when he failed to answer correctly questions posed by fraternity members.
In 1986, a fraternity at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., was disbanded after members used silver nitrate to burn the fraternity insignia on the backs of pledges.
Hazing isn’t limited to fraternities, Ms. Stevens said.
″Certainly it goes on in the military, in sports, even school bands,″ she said.
After an incident last December in which a woman student was handcuffed to a urinal, the U.S. Naval Academy revised its rules for disciplining any midshipman found guilty of physical abuse of freshmen, even if the act falls short of what is considered hazing.
Thirty states have anti-hazing laws, according to Fraternal Law, a newsletter distributed by Manley, Burke & Fisher, the Cincinnati law firm that organizes the Fraternal Law Conference.
A certain amount of indoctrination is considered important to cohesiveness in college fraternities, as in military academies. But the conference says national fraternities have tried to eliminate the old-fashioned, mean-spirited tasks and the sort of forced, heavy drinking that resulted in Chuck Stenzel’s death.
Ms. Stevens agrees, citing steps by fraternities to offer alternatives such as public service projects to take the place of ″Hell Week″ initiations.
″Every college campus I visit - and I’ve been to a dozen this semester already - I think there is a change ... things like alcohol awareness weeks and dry rushes, where fraternities entertain prospective members without alcohol being present,″ she said.