Hazing is systemic in American culture and around the world. From professional athletes to police officers, new members of most organizations are put through hell as part of an initiation phase. But at the collegiate level initiation or hazing takes on a way uglier face, and has led to death countless times. When people are given unregulated power over each other, terrible things tend to happen.
In 2009, a particularly disgusting case of hazing occurred at SUNY Geneseo. A sophomore, Arman Partamian, 19, was pledging a private fraternity located off campus known as the “PIGS” or “Orange Knights.” Partamian had only been pledging the frat for two weeks when an especially heavy night of drinking was ordered by the frat heads. A game of beer football kicked off the night, the rules of which state that those playing must drink after every play in the game. This sounds like enough to get most underage drinkers sick, but things were just getting started.
The frat began to play games in which heavy liquor consumption was followed by physical acts like running, spinning around a baseball bat, and doing pushups. A little after midnight, Partamian passed out wasted and exhausted. He was left alone on a bed in the frat house until he was discovered the next morning — dead. His blood alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit, or close to 0.5. To put that in perspective, for most normal people, the most wasted blackout drunk you have ever experienced is most likely a little more than half that. Those found responsible were given a slap on the wrist, forced to serve a few weekends in jail and pay a fine.
His father is currently looking for justice against those who ran the frat, as well as the landlord who rented the building to them. There’s a fine (possibly criminal) line between “Getting someone to drink” and “Getting someone who is drinking enough alcohol to murder God to drink even more”.
Philippine Frat War
In late October 2010, the body of Noel Borja Jr., a 15-year-old, was found near the Manila Bay in the Philippines. He was stuffed in a steel drum filled with cement and left to wash away. Police have begun an investigation into the Tau Gamma Phi fraternity, who were initiating Borja Jr.
In a country where alcohol abuse is already rampant, the fraternity decided to kick it up a notch above their American counterparts and allegedly beat Borja Jr. to death after finding out that his parents were former members of the rival Alpha Kappa Rho fraternity. Ferdinand Palacio, chapter head of the Tau Gamma Phi’s admitted to police that Borja Jr. could not withstand the beating and died the previous Sunday.
Authorities are looking for 12 other participants of the beating, as well as the owner of the house in which it took place. â€¨ â€¨
In Washington’s Olympic Natural Park, hikers and rangers were plagued for years by a notoriously aggressive White Mountain goat. What was the park rangers’ solution? Like the spastic kid in the frat that no one likes, they decided to haze the everloving crap out of that goat. Rangers shot bean bags at the goat, and encouraged hikers and visitors to throw rocks at it.
After years of these practices, the goat’s aggressiveness somehow began to resemble Hitler’s. This all came to a head in late October, 2010. Robert Boardman, an experienced hiker, was visiting the park with his wife and a friend when the goat approached them. Boardman attempted to distract the goat to allow his wife and friend to get away.
Unfortunately, the distraction came at a price. Boardman was gored in the thigh, and when emergency workers came to help the goat wouldn’t let them get close to Boardman, protecting his prize at all costs. Eventually the workers were able to get enough of themselves together and scare the goat away, but by then it was too late. Boardman died as a result of his injuries. The park rangers’ response to this was to find the goat and kill it. Definitely a case of too little, too late… and too much goat abuse from jump street. â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨
Acute Exertion Death
In January 2010 Donnie Wade Jr. was pledging the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at Prairie View A&M in Texas. As part of the pledge process, pledge trainer Marvin Jackson along with other senior frat members took the pledges to a local high school running track. They were forced to engage in a grueling early-morning exercise session. At some point, Wade collapsed.
A bystander immediately offered to call 911, but Jackson was heard saying that they didn’t need any help. Choosing to trust the delirious, exhausted, half-conscious Wade, pledges bundled him in a blanket and drove him to the North Cypress Medical Center, a brief jaunt of a drive at 33 miles away. The fraternity members later said they thought this was the quickest way to get Wade help.
It wasn’t quick enough. Wade died. The autopsy revealed he had died from “natural causes,” with “acute exertion” being a contributing cause — which is sort of like a torture victim dying from “acute drill to the forehead”. Wade’s parents believe this is evidence enough that hazing was the cause of their son’s death. They’re currently suing the fraternity and Jackson for their involvement. â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨
One of the most common aspects to these hazing tragedies is the inexplicably light sentencing those responsible receive. The case of Carson Starkey is no different. In December 2008 18-year-old Carson Starkey was attending the San Luis Obispo school at California Polytechnic State University. He was also pledging the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. During the pledge process, Starkey was required to complete a “brown bag” challenge in which he was forced to drink whatever amount of alcohol he was given in a brown paper bag by an older frat member. He died on December 2, 2008 amongst chants of “puke and rally.” His prospective fraternity brothers didn’t even take him to the hospital.
Recently, two Sigma Alpha Epsilon members were sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years probation over their involvement in Starkey’s death. Earlier in the year two other fraternity brothers received similar sentences. If your fraternity games end up killing someone what’s the difference between you and people who are held criminally responsible for a death? The tasteless answer to this question is no manslaughterer accidentally hits an old lady with his car, then calls her a pussy and draws balls on her unconscious face. â€¨
Isaac William Rand
Hazing is nothing new. Isaac William Rand was a freshman at the University of North Carolina in 1912, pledging a long-lost fraternity. As part of his hazing he was (surprise) required to get extremely drunk, as well as balance on a barrel. It didn’t work out for Rand, nor the sophomores involved.
Rand slipped and fell from the barrel. In itself this would be no big issue, but Rand’s throat landed on a broken bottle, which sliced open his jugular vein. He quickly bled to death.
What’s most interesting about this case is how both the school and the authorities handled it. All four sophomores involved were expelled by the school immediately. They were soon arrested and only one was acquitted, while the other three were found guilty of manslaughter. How was society able to dispense actual justice to those hazing a century ago, but most get a slap on the wrist today? Is it because society has matured and the criminal justice system now finds it unconscionable to punish those taking part in a childish antic that’s heavily reinforced by laws that encourage a culture of clandestine binge drinking? Experts sympathetic to this idea say: “No. No it’s still pretty terrible.”â€¨ â€¨
Sometimes, hazing is indistinguishable from sadistic torture. In 2005, Matthew Carrington was pledging the Chi Tau fraternity at California State University Chico. When he was taken into their off-campus basement for a particularly awful night of pledging there was a sign that read “In the basement, no one can hear you scream.”
The pledges were forced to do calisthenics with one foot on a bench while they were blasted with freezing air from the vents, and frat brothers poured gallons of ice cold water over them. To make matters worse, pledges were forced to drink gallon after gallon of water throughout the torture. Carrington couldn’t handle it, and collapsed due to hypothermia as his brain stem swelled from water intoxication.
In reaction, police arrested five Chi Tau members and charged them with manslaughter. The president of the school also threatened to abolish Greek life at Cal State Chico. If the same thing had been done by someone in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan we would call it torture or terrorism and they’d totally get the death penalty for sure. Definitely. No Question. On an unrelated note that has nothing to do with the previous story, the CIA has begun heavy recruiting at California State University Chico. â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨ â€¨
Harrison Kowiak was only 19 years old when he died in November of 2008 in the middle of a dark pasture outside of his campus at Lenoir-Rhyne University, a small liberal arts school in North Carolina.
He was a freshman hoping to join the Theta Chi fraternity, but he never made it out of pledge week. He was told to walk along the dark pasture wearing light colored clothes with other pledges. The fraternity brothers, proving they had never head the age-old adage of “It’s all fun and games until someone gets a blood vessel traumatically ruptured in their brain stem”, donned dark, camouflaging clothing and pushed and tackled the pledges without warning. Kowiak died from a traumatic blow to the head after being tackled.
No criminal charges were filed. Kowiak’s parents are searching for justice via civil suit at this time. â€¨
Delta Kappa Epsilon
In October 2010 at the University of Alberta there was an especially interesting case of hazing. Although none of the people responsible or victimized were revealed, the fraternity’s own response is worth looking into. The school is located in Montreal, a city that is no stranger to the wild antics of outsiders, as well as its own populace. But no one could be prepared for what the student-run newspaper The Gateway uncovered via video footage. The fraternity had tragically learned nothing of the time-honored American value of “puke and rally”, and was accused of forcing its members to eat their own vomit during extreme drinking sessions.
Doug Lanphar, the executive director of the international fraternity is investigating these claims. “We will interview members of the fraternity and, if they will speak to us, members of the staff of The Gateway and the source of the story published by The Gateway,” said Lanphar. Those involved will face 6 month suspensions or possibly expulsion. â€¨
Curtis William Mertensmeyer
Curtis William Mertensmeyer, a former pledge of the Sigma Alpha Lu fraternity at Tulane University in New Orleans alleged extreme abuse by his former prospective fraternity brothers in 2009, and filed suit in Federal Court. While we might all be down for a little good natured brain-rupturing rugby in the dead of night, some hazing is just straight-up twisted, sadistic and disturbingly similar to the worst German pornos.
Mertensmeyer said he expected some hazing, but what he was subjected to went far beyond that. He was led to the back of the fraternity house and told to get in a dog cage with a dog named Layla. He was then tied up within the cage so he couldn’t escape, and forced to stay there for three hours, while unknown liquids were poured on him along with verbal degradation from the fraternity brothers.
Mertensmeyer asked to use the bathroom, but was denied, and urinated in his pants, as well as vomiting in the cage. Still, he was left to stew in his own waste for more time. Eventually he was released, but was ordered to keep quiet about his experience, and threatened that he would have the Greek system out to “get him” on campus.
High School Sodomy
Perhaps the most disturbing case of hazing yet: in 2009 three freshman football players attending Robertson High School in Las Vegas described how they were sodomized with a broom handle by six older teammates during a training camp in August.
An unnamed 14-year-old victim alleged that he was held down and sodomized with the broom handle after urinating in a bathroom the older teammates had declared their own. Afterwards, he claimed that he was forced to call one of the defendants “his daddy” and apologize to the teammates who sodomized him for entering the bathroom.
The same 14-year-old victim said that the next day the coaches asked about the incident in front of the entire team, and laughed about it. Later on two more students claim they were sodomized in similar circumstances.
The coaches involved have resigned. Five of the defendants have denied the charges. Jarek Padilla, the sixth defendant, plead guilty to rape and conspiracy in exchange for being tried as a juvenile. More recently two more defendants have plead guilty to their role in the abuse, and prosecutors believe their case against the other defendants, including suspected ringleader Michael Gallegos has been strengthened by these developments. As with most instances of non-consensual sodomy, there’s probably a joke about the attackers’ repressed sexuality to be had but we’re all too busy whimpering in a fetal position to think of it. â€¨ â€¨
In 2006 at the University of Texas, Tyler Cross lost his life to suspected hazing. His blood tested positive for twice the legal limit of alcohol, but it was the blunt force injuries that killed him. Cross, who at 18 was a freshman, was pledging the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. One night he got very drunk in connection to the pledging “initiation” process. The details of how he got so drunk are murky (experts suspect peer pressure and a mysterious dorm ritual known only as “shots”). What is known is this: Cross fell from a fifth-floor balcony at the University Towers dormitory, and was killed instantly.
His older brother attended the school, and said he was grateful for the time he had with Cross before his death. His mother also greatly appreciated the outpouring of condolence and sympathy from Cross’ friends and frat brothers. While an investigation was started, as of yet no one has been found responsible. This is a trend at the University of Texas, with at least two hazing related fatalities occurring in the year before Cross’ death. â€¨ â€¨
Jacqueline Farnsworth Farwell
Jacqueline Farnsworth Farwell, a first year student at Southwestern Illinois School of Law, was pledging a sorority known as the RIL in November, 2005. As part of her pledge activities, she was required to spend a night outdoors in a predetermined location by RIL. They chose for her the Oak Knoll Cemetery.
Farwell was supplied with a candle, blanket and parka. The exercise was supposed to give Farwell a chance to reflect on her commitment to both the RIL and the law itself. But when the pledge team came the next morning to find, Farwell she wasn’t where she’d been left. After briefly looking around, they discovered her blanket, parka and candle, but no sign of Farwell herself. Later on she was pulled out of a lake adjacent to the cemetery, and her death was initially ruled a suicide.
Seven RIL officers were put on trial and charged with manslaughter after their initial defense of “it was probably ghosts, come on” was rejected. They were eventually found not guilty. However, they were found guilty of violating the Hazing Act, a law constructed to protect people like Farwell from inhumane treatment. The seven officers are currently appealing their conviction to the Illinois Supreme Court, and may eventually take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. â€¨
In 2005, a South Korean private named Kim Dong Min, a victim of hazing, tossed a grenade into a barracks where 25 soldiers slept, as well as fired 44 rounds into the room. The South Korean army (which all citizens are required to serve in) is notorious for its brutal hazing. Kim’s hazing was described quite mildly and disingenuously by the South Korean military as consisting of “habitual harassment by his senior soldiers who bullied and used verbal violence against him”. Eight people were killed in the incident, including his post’s commander, First Lt. Kim Jong Myeong. Private Kim was arrested 10 minutes after the killings.
It was the most casualties the South Korean army had suffered since 2000; all the result of “verbal violence”, which in Korean translates to: “a total bull crap excuse”. Now that Private Kim is within the grasp of the South Korean military we will most likely never know what exactly he experienced. What we do know is that hazing can lead to not only terrible results for those who are victims of it, but those who perpetrate it as well.