UB professor Natesh Parashurama remembers being woken up in the middle of the night, blindfolded and forced to answer questions posed by brothers in Alpha Tau Omega, the MIT fraternity he was pledging and hoped to join.
He was a freshman, he said, and was eager to be accepted and have a place to fit in. He said he knew the rituals were used to “scare” recruits, but that was part of the process.
“You join [a fraternity] and really have to show your commitment,” Parashurama, a biomedical and chemical engineering professor, said.
And for that, you get a small group of friends who call themselves “brothers.”
Increasingly, however, rituals of belonging have become dangerous.
In the last five years, 30 U.S. college students, 29 males and one female, have died as a result of hazing by fraternities and sororities. Sixteen of the deaths involved alcohol, according to Hank Nuwer, an author specializing in hazing. There have been 77 deaths since 2005.
On Wednesday, the UB campus was shocked by the news of the death of freshman
Sebastian Serafin-Bazan, a pledge at Sigma Pi fraternity who collapsed while allegedly being “ordered” to “perform exercises,” according to The Buffalo News.
The Spectrum spent much of Wednesday trying to reach UB administrators to get statistics on the number of students who have been disciplined or suspended for hazing and violations of Greek life policy in the past five years, but Pamela Stevens-Jackson, the official in charge of Greek life, declined to comment, despite numerous requests.
Hazing is difficult to quantify nationally. The government doesn’t publicize any statistics on hazing, student deaths, excessive drinking or fraternity discipline. The Spectrum found seven other exercise-related hazing deaths in the U.S. in the last 40 years.
UB has a zero-tolerance policy regarding hazing and aggressively pursues any violations of this policy that occur. UB is performing an “internal review” into the activities of fraternities and sororities, according to a statement from UB President Satish Tripathi.
Dr. Amanda Nickerson, a psychology professor,said some students join Greek life knowing hazing can be dangerous, but some consider it a “rite of passage.” Nickerson defined hazing as being expected to do an activity that is “humiliating, degrading or destructive” to become a part of a group. Sometimes, students who have been hazed don’t even know it.
Serafin-Bazan’s death comes just five months after the death of freshman Collin Wiant at the Ohio University chapter of Sigma Pi. In a lawsuit against the fraternity, Wiant’s parents argue that Wiant died from over-consumption of alcohol, sleep deprivation and physical assault –– all the result of hazing. Local and national chapters of Sigma Pi denied involvement in the freshman’s alleged hazing.
The national Sigma Pi chapter suspended UB’s chapter on Friday, April 12 following Serafin-Bazan’s hospitalization.
“The entire Sigma Pi family is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Sebastian Serafin-Bazan. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Sebastian’s family and friends during this extremely difficult time,” the national chapter said in a statement.
Earlier this month, four former Penn State fraternity brothers were sentenced in connection with the death of sophomore pledge Timothy Piazza in February 2017. Three received jail time.
Luke Visser, Joseph Sala, Joshua Kurczewski and Michael Bonatucci, former members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity pleaded guilty to hazing-related charges in connection with Piazza’s death. Piazza died after drinking large quantities of alcohol during his first night as a pledge.
Nickerson said pledging often involves initiations and rituals to prove one’s worth. This can often morph into hazing, she said.
“If getting into a group requires you to do something to prove your worth, it may be too risky not to,” Nickerson said. “People may justify [hazing] by saying it’s a tradition, so they may not view it as a problem.”
Kellie Talebkhah, a graduate psychology student, said fraternities and sororities offer the “opportunity for connection,” since starting college can be “a little scary.” But Talebkhah said students shouldn’t engage in unhealthy relationships to make friends.
“The feeling that we need to belong is innate,” Talebkhah said. “When thinking about potential hazing or any inappropriate relationship, it is important to know you have choices, even if the choices are difficult.”
Brittany Gorny is a senior news editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor.