‘Nobody called 911’: what can be done to change the culture of hazing at US colleges? | Fraternities and sororities

Late on Oct. 19, 2021, an 18-year-old University of Missouri student named Danny Santulli collapsed in the middle of a party on Tuesday night — the latest victim of an apparent hazing ritual that had dangerously spiraled out of control .

Surveillance footage from the ‘Pledge Father Reveal’ party hosted by the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity revealed how Santulli was force-fed beer through a funnel between puffs from a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka; after two hours of drinking, he lost his balance and fell backwards. He was barely conscious when the fraternity members again dropped him, while rushing to carry him to a hospital door. There, attendants found him inside a car, not breathing and in cardiac arrest; his blood alcohol level was at an almost lethal level of 0.46.

“They knew he was in distress and his lips were blue,” his mother, Mary Pat Santulli, told ABC News, referring to the many members of Phi Gamma Delta who can be seen overlooking the worsening condition. her son’s condition, “and no one called 911.”

Miraculously, Santulli escaped that fateful night of his life – but he suffered brain damage that deprived him of the ability to walk, speak or see.

On June 17, a grand jury indicted two men – the vice president of the fraternity who supplied the vodka for the party, and another member who gave it to Santulli – with criminal hazing. The Santulli family settled lawsuits with 22 defendants and the fraternity. Meanwhile, Santulli’s tragic case has rekindled deep concerns about the dangers of hazing.

Over the past five years, the rate of perilous hazing incidents has increased at colleges across the country. Universities responded with attempts at repression; in 2019, the University of Missouri introduced new rules to restrict access to alcohol and other behaviors that significantly influence hazing. But because Mizzou, like most schools, doesn’t own the multimillion-dollar mansions where fraternities and sororities are based, the job of keeping order falls to student-run watchdog groups, and hazing continues to thrive. Since 2000, 101 students have died at US colleges as a result of hazing incidents. So what, if anything, can be done to change the culture?

Danny Santulli.
Danny Santulli. Photography: Courtesy of David W. Bianchi

“Even the word hazing it sounds so sweet,” says Laura Perino – a therapist whose son Tyler narrowly survived a hazing incident. “His abuse. It is an abuse of power, an abuse of an individual physically and emotionally. In any other environment, it would be called abuse.

Although common on sports teams and in the military and in even less physically demanding environments like restaurants and law firms, hazing is most closely associated with student Greek-letter organizations that maintain some sort of popularity caste system in private colleges and public universities across the country. .

Greek organizations predate the founding of the United States, with the start of the Phi Beta Kappa Academic Honors Society at the College of William and Mary in 1775. When the colleges finally opened their doors to women 60 years later, the female students have formed sororities as a shield against the institutions. misogyny, while fraternities have formed in response to arch-conservative rules on college campuses.

According to the 2019 book Brotherhood, which examines hazing through the lives of two college students navigating this world, college hazing became common in the early 1800s, with sophomores nudging freshmen. The practice increased in the late 1860s when students returned to campus from the Civil War trenches and became more alcoholic after World War II. Nowadays, it is an extreme initiation process in which a group forces an individual to prove their membership by submitting to stressful, intimidating, and humiliating rituals that establish and reinforce pecking order. Everyone participates; no one claims responsibility.

A student drinking through a long beer bong.
A student drinking through a long beer bong. Photography: mcgillycuddy/Stockimo/Alamy

As higher education has turned into a half-trillion-dollar business, college hazing has taken a sadistic turn. Blindfolded gauntlets, strength tests, cruel mind games, cattle branding – these are all hallmarks of college hazing; Meanwhile, hazing deaths have fallen from about one per year from 1969 to 2000 to 2.5 per year over the past two decades. And almost all of these incidents are related to excessive drinking in a fraternity. “Part of being a Greek Life Member is learning to tolerate large amounts of alcohol,” says Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who has studied hazing for the better part of two decades, “as if it would make you a better person and not a better alcoholic.Greek life in particular has done much to entrench hazing as a critical rite of passage where not only lifelong bonds are forged but also shape future careers.

In 1980, a University of South Carolina student named Barry Ballou died from choking on his vomit after he passed out after ingesting huge amounts of alcohol at a party hosted by Sigma Nu – a military brotherhood that promotes values ​​like love, truth and honor; like Santulli, Ballou was left face down and unconscious on a sofa for over an hour.

In 2019, a transfer student named Tyler Perino joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Miami University in Ohio in hopes of making friends. But at a surprise initiation party, Perino was blindfolded, verbally abused, force-fed drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol, and repeatedly punched on his bare buttocks. with a paddle. Later that night, his girlfriend found him face down in his dorm bed, fainting and losing consciousness and choking on his own vomit. His call to 911 probably saved his life.

Perino has made a full physical recovery, but he is still struggling emotionally and relies on antidepressants and counseling to manage PTSD. After the hazing incident, Perino transferred again to the University of Toledo, where he is one semester away from graduating with a major in psychology and a minor in forensic investigations; call it his way of pursuing justice he’s never seen in Miami, where most perpetrators were fined $100 after the university slapped Delta Tau Delta with a potential 15-year ban . He no longer drinks or parties. He works at his father’s painting business and at the local state prison. “It’s like a brotherhood,” Perino told the Guardian. “You certainly have the guards, the best dogs. There is certainly a similar kind of pyramid, that’s for sure.

Perino says he hopes the fraternity hazing problem improves. “But it’s going to be difficult. Most kids who join, not all, wish they had some sort of power. What happens is when you give that power to kids, it only takes a rotten apple to make a bad decision for people to get used to.

Santulli’s hospitalization sparked a mass student protest and a permanent ban from Phi Gamma Delta in Mizzou. Missouri is one of 44 states that have anti-hazing laws, but only 10 explicitly make it a felony in the event of death or serious injury. After an Ohio State student died during a hazing ritual in 2018, the state passed the Collin Law, which further requires college stewards to immediately report such incidents. Yet because the Clery Act exempts hazing from student offenses colleges are required to report to the Department of Education, students and parents have little information to make informed decisions.

University of Michigan students gather at the Sigma Chi fraternity house to drink alcohol.
University of Michigan students gather at the Sigma Chi fraternity house to drink alcohol. Photograph: Jim West/Alamy

“Across the board, I would like to see more transparency in the history of crimes,” says Laura Perino – who, in Tyler’s case, could only take the word of a Greek Life student representative during a orientation on campus. “They said, ‘there are fraternities that go rogue, others that pop up shouldn’t. Then go for a campus-sponsored one. So when Tyler told us he wanted to join a fraternity to meet friends, we said, ‘Okay, as long as it’s a school-sponsored fraternity.’

After a 19-year-old Penn State student died of a fractured skull and lacerated spleen in a 2018 fraternity initiation incident that saw him drink 18 drinks in 82 minutes, Penn State President Eric Barron has vowed to end hazing for good and has begun regularly meeting with peers across the country to combat the problem. But here’s the paradox for school administrators: The headaches Greek living organizations create with hazing aren’t as urgent as the chronic pains they solve — like student housing and fundraising. It’s much easier to get alumni back on campus or donate money when they have a place they can call home where they can drink alongside the new generation.

In 2005, Lipkins, the psychologist who studies hazing, traveled to Capitol Hill in hopes of cultivating interest around a national hazing prevention bill that would regulate fraternities and fund fraternity efforts. research and intervention. But as she wandered the halls of power and met lawmakers, she suddenly realized that many of them not only belonged to Greek organizations, but also had children who signed up. “That’s when I realized how unlikely the government was to tackle this problem.”

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