America has a long, dark history of college hazing that has seen nearly 300 young students die in accidents while being initiated into Greek life.
The latest incident to shock the country was the October 2021 hazing of Danny Santulli, a 19-year-old who survived severe alcohol poisoning but is now blind and wheelchair-ridden as a result of it.
Danny’s family’s lawyer, David Bianchi, described it as the worst case of hazing injury the country has ever seen.
‘You can’t be more injured and still be alive,’ he told DailyMail.com this week after filing a lawsuit against two of the frat boys involved. While Danny survived, more than 400 other kids have not.
There is no official database for hazing deaths or injuries thanks largely to the blanket of secrecy that is immediately thrown on incidents by universities, fraternities and sororities.
Pledges are loaded into the back of a U-Haul van to be driven to a hazing event at Northwestern University
The closest count to an official tally is that of Hank Nuwer, a journalist who has covered hazing and written multiple books on the topic.
By his count, there were 281 between 1838 and 2022.
Three boys died in 2021 after schools reopened following a year-long shutdown thanks to COVID. There were no hazing deaths in 2020 and so far, there have not been any in 2022.
In recent years, alcohol poisoning deaths have been on the rise. In all three suspected hazing deaths of 2021, the victim died as a result of acute alcohol poisoning.
There was a brief gap in hazing deaths in 2020 when college campuses closed as a result of COVID-19.
Now, with more kids rushing back to school, there are fears of an uptick – and experts however say hazing will be harder to police now that more and more kids are taking the rituals off-campus, out of the view of the schools which monitor them.
A 1905 article from The Albuquerque Evening Citizen details how student Stuart L. Pierson was tied to train tracks and hit by a locomotive in a hazing ritual at Kenyon college
Adam Oakes (left) died at Virginia Commonwealth University last February as a result of alcohol poisoning. Phat Nguyen (right) died in November at Michigan State University
‘It’s all going underground,’ Newar told DailyMail.com. He said the uptick began in 1995 when the tradition of ‘bottle passing’ began.
It involves a pledge being gifted an entire bottle of alcohol – normally cheap vodka – to finish in one evening.
Newar’s research – which involves interviews with fraternity brothers and psychologists – reveals that the entire act is underpinned by camaraderie.
‘There’s denial after the incident that occurs, a blindness among fraternity members just like the government in Bay of Pigs.
‘If you do something risky enough long enough something bad is going to occur, but they don’t see it coming. Interview after interview I find them surprised and I don’t think it’s faked surprise.
He said the only way to stop hazing is to stop the tradition of pledging – but colleges and fraternities are hesitant.
‘These slaps on the wrists are not helping anybody. I think it makes frat members arrogant and thinking. Everybody should have a good time but no one should die for a good time.
‘In doing the research and talking to people, [it seems] it’s a form of cheap entertainment – it’s a kind of domestic abuse. They call themselves brothers sons dads, it’s in a house.
‘We have to end pledging – end that power dynamic,’ Nuwer added.
In another incident in 2019, Western Michigan University student Bailey Broderick was killed when she was struck by a van being driven by a drunk pledge carrying out one of his tasks – ferrying his fraternity brothers around campus. Hunter Hudgins was charged with her death =
Stone Foltz, pictured with his parents, died last year in an alcohol hazing at Bowling Green State University
While alcohol poisoning is a leading cause of hazing death, it is not the only root of the problem.
Drum major Robert Champion was beaten to death in 2011 by frat boys taking part in a hazing challenge
Other incidents include that of Stuart Lathrop Pierson, an 18-year-old who died in 1905 after being tied to train tracks as part of a hazing prank at Delta Kappa Epsilon at Kenyon College in Ohio.
A newspaper article from that year has the headline: ‘Was this student hazed to death?’
The coroner found that Stuart had either been tied to the tracks or was somehow unable to get away fast enough as a locomotive train approached him.
In another incident in 2019, Western Michigan University student Bailey Broderick was killed when she was struck by a van being driven by a drunk pledge carrying out one of his tasks – ferrying his fraternity brothers around campus.
In 2018, Collin Wiant died from asphyxiation after inhaling nitrous oxide from a whipped cream canister at Sigma Pi.
Five years earlier, students Marvell Edmondson and Jauwan Holmes both drowned after a night of drinking at Virginia State University. They had attempted to swim in a river.
Hazing is a felony crime in 13 states if it causes serious harm or death.
Those states are Florida, Texas, California, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New Jersey.
Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana do not have any specific hazing laws.