Fraternity Hazing Case Should Give Students Pause

A Personal Perspective

Four years ago, a 19-year-old New York City college student died during a hazing ritual in the Poconos. The culprits who caused it are now facing the music.

Apparently, it wasn’t so much that the bunch of knuckleheads with Michael Deng, a Baruch student from Queens, deliberately wounded or intended to kill him—it’s their reaction after he reportedly fell backwards, hitting his head on the icy ground while carrying an overweight back pack, blindfolded as part of their Pi Delta Psi induction ritual.

Deng became unconscious and not one of the nearly 40 morons with him called for an ambulance. Instead, they spent several hours destroying evidence and generally trying to cover their tracks while that young man slowly died.

Earlier this week, four of them pleaded guilty and will be given light sentences with, perhaps, no jail time. Some others had already been charged with homicide, manslaughter, conspiracy and a host of others—some others are reportedly still pending.

Since the crime took place in Pennsylvania, the case is being processed there and prosecutors seem to be doing a fine job of it.

Mr. Deng’s parents, in memory of their only child, have pledged to spend the rest of their lives fighting against fraternity hazing. Theirs is an unassuageable loss, but their cause in its aftermath is an important one.

For far too long, we have heard of our young men literally dying to get into the fraternities of their choice. No parent should have to bury their child because he or she wanted to join a fraternity. These organizations should be about mentoring and nurturing.

About a month ago, there was a big Alpha Phi Alpha convention in Connecticut, which my husband attended since he’s a member. He and a few members of his Bridgeport chapter decided to meet up again the following morning for a church service where one of their brothers is pastor of a church.

It was moving when Pastor Shane Gaskin told his congregation how much they looked out for one another as brothers back in their college days.

“You didn’t mess with one of us,” he said. “We always had each other’s back.”

He was so honored to have his brothers come to hear him preach and hang out for lunch afterwards. They have stayed in touch over the years—even before the advent of email, text and Facebook. In fact, we had about 12 of them at our wedding and visited one in Louisiana last year. So, being part of a fraternity or sorority is a normal, wonderful part of college life. Joining should not turn deadly.

Any organization that requires that a candidate subject him or herself to humiliation and physical abuse should not be an organization anyone wants to join. We’ve read of candidates dying from alcohol poisoning because they were required to drink to excess during qualifying rituals. Don’t do it!

One of Groucho Marx’s most enduring quips, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” could be utilized and re-imagined by our college students: “I refuse to join any fraternity that needs me to endanger my life.”

No one should lose their child the way the Dengs and so many others have. Shame on those young men who caused this tragedy.

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