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riminal Charges, Civil Suits Follow Hazing Activities at Asian-American Fraternities and Sororities

Over the last decade, as more Asian-Americans have filled college classes nationwide, new fraternities and sororities have sprung up on universities from coast to coast. Not surprisingly, those organizations have experienced some serious legal difficulties, mostly tied to injury or death stemming from “initiation” rites. Here are some examples:

  • A freshman at Baruch College in New York died in 2013 after he was blindfolded and weighed down with a backpack filled with sand, then required to run across a frozen field. Five members of the fraternity he sought to join have been charged with third-degree murder, and others face assorted charges, including assault, hindering apprehension and hazing.
  • The family of a student at the University of Texas at Austin settled a wrongful death case for $4.2 million, after their son, a freshman, died from alcohol poisoning at a fraternity party.
  • The family of a student at Cal Poly Pomona obtained $1.7 million from a fraternity that engaged in the hazing death of their son, who died from injuries sustained in a tackle football game without equipment.
  • At least two members of an Asian-American fraternity at Syracuse University face misdemeanor criminal charges for forcing pledges to crawl through snow and ice without gloves. One of the pledges experienced severe frostbite and risked the loss of some of his fingers.

Though most fraternities insist that participating in hazing/initiation rites is entirely voluntary, attorneys for victims say that, as a practical matter, pledges will nearly always participate, even if they know the risks, because they fear they will be rejected or ostracized if they fail to do so.

A study by Dr. Minh Tran, of the UCLA School of Dentistry, found a pattern where some Asian-American fraternity members used hazing as an outlet for what he called ” a hyper-masculinity.” He found that, within certain organizations, hazing continued to escalate from year to year, as new members sought to “outdo” the initiation rites of the past. He noted that it typically led to a decreased reputation, lower quality recruits, and a greater propensity to even more egregious behavior. He recommended greater oversight by both national fraternity offices and local universities.

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