BGLO Special Report: Dangerous Hazing Has Not Stopped

“The question is not if, but when another kid will be injured or killed trying to join one of our groups.” Does it all come down to the money?

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In Part 2 of a special 3-part series on Black Greek Letter Organization hazing, author Lawrence C. Ross Jr. on why dangerous “underground” pledging still exists, and if the BGLOs are effectual when it comes to dealing with the root causes. Part 1 of this series is here.

The belief in physical violence as a possible good, which many black Greek members use as a way to rationalize their behavior, has resulted in some gruesome hazing incidents since the official end of pledging.

In 1994, Michael Davis was underground pledging Kappa Alpha Psi at Southeast Missouri State, when his fraternity big brothers beat him to death with paddles. Kappa was sued for $2.25 million.

After beating Shawn Blackstone, an Omega pledge at the University of Louisville, to the point of kidney failure, Omega Psi Phi was ordered to pay damages of $931,000.

In 2002, Kristin High and Kenitha Saafir were pledging AKA on a Los Angeles area beach at midnight, when high waves swept them out to sea. Both drowned. AKA was sued for $100 million and eventually settled with the High and Saafir families.

And at Florida A&M in 2006, two members of Kappa Alpha Psi were sent to jail for two years after beating a pledge with canes. In all, there are over 100 hazing cases over the past 20 years that involve hazing injuries like broken bones, ruptured kidneys, concussions, near drownings and death. Instead of the culture of pledging violence lessening, it appears to be intensifying.

“The problem is two-fold,” says Washington, D.C., based attorney Douglas Fierberg. He specializes in hazing cases and has worked on numerous black Greek cases, representing victims like the family of Joseph Green, a Tennessee State student who died while underground pledging Omega Psi Phi in 2001. The resulting $15 million lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

“First, I’m not too sure that senior [black fraternity and sorority] management believes that initiation should be done without hazing. Many have been hazed [themselves] and view pledging as a form of manhood and worthiness.”

Joann Loveless, International Grand Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, wants to get rid of hazing within her sorority, but recognizes that the tentacles of hazing go deep within the DNA of her members.

“Our seasoned members must stop ‘glorifying the old days,’ Loveless says. “Our undergraduates see the fire in our [older members] eyes and the thrill in our voices and want to experience the same thing. Many also want to preserve the ‘secret actions’ that they confuse with the ceremonial rituals. They believe that hazing is part of the same whole. Some believe that if it was good enough for us who are currently strong and committed leaders, then why not for them?”