The Cavalier Daily
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Hazing blame lies with brotherhood

THE UNIVERSITY community is extremely fortunate that flags haven't had to be lowered to half-mast in recent weeks. If the alleged hazing incident that put Phi Delta Theta then-pledge John Cox in the hospital had put him in the morgue, present concerns would not be with maintaining diversity -- they would be with maintaining life. Luckily, fate smiled on Cox and the entire community Sept. 16 and granted us a second chance. Fate might not be so kind next time.

Cox, a second-year Engineering student, claims that he drank a fifth of rum of his own volition and that it was not part of a hazing activity. This is hard to believe considering he also stated he had only slept nine hours in the preceding five days. The allegations being investigated by the Charlottesville Police are that Cox's actions were not the result of mere idiocy but the result of pressure from his fraternity peers -- in other words, hazing. Hazing, looked at in the kindest light, can be an attempt to bond pledges to each other and to brothers. One must question what bonding can occur when someone is "trembling uncontrollably" in a bathtub.

It might be easy to use allegations like these to damn the fraternity system and hazing, in particular. It's more important, however, to plead to those involved to at least respect the sanctity of life and to be exceedingly careful when the opportunity to play God -- or puppeteer -- presents itself. Certainly there are less life-threatening ways to initiate a pledge into the brotherhood.

Whatever happened to duct-taping someone to a tree? Whatever happened to forcing someone to dine on Alpo? While these things may be humiliating and unpleasant, they are not particularly dangerous. If hazing activities like these are what fraternities deem necessary as a prerequisite for membership, then so be it. If that's what they believe will bond them together as "brothers," so be it. At least everyone lives to talk about it.

In the current system, however, not everyone lives to talk about it. Scott Krueger, a pledge at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, didn't live to talk about his fraternity initiation process. Krueger died of alcohol poisoning Sept. 30, 1997, with a blood alcohol level of .41 -- more than five times Virginia's legal driving limit. To chalk Krueger's death up as a one-time, fluke incident is to ignore all the other close calls that don't make the national news. The Cox incident probably won't be discussed much beyond Virginia, and who's to say how many such occurrences take place in other states that we never hear about. The responsibility is now in the hands of fraternity members at the University to ensure that our school doesn't splash headlines across national newspapers as the result of tragedy.

Some will argue that the responsibility lies with the individuals who choose to join fraternities and not the fraternities themselves. Most are aware ahead of time that at least some hazing is involved in the pledging process. This, despite the fact that state and University codes forbid it. Assuming they are aware of this, the argument goes, they shouldn't join if they don't want to be subject to these activities. To blame prospective members, however, is to ignore all the positives of fraternity membership.

"The underlying principles of the fraternity system are leadership, scholarship and service," Inter-Fraternity Council President Wes Kaupinen said in a personal interview. Surely these are admirable principles -- principles made more admirable when upheld in academic and community service pursuits. If all these things really are as predominant as advertised, it's no wonder hundreds traverse Rugby Road during rush. It is a wonder, though, that current members would be willing to jeopardize a system they purport to be so proud of for the sake of making people drink.

There has been no shortage of coverage lately about the predominance of alcohol and binge drinking on college campuses. Most of it has focused on the irresponsibility of students who choose to drink as much as they do. What about those who find themselves victims of a potentially lethal combination of adolescent immaturity, alcohol and peer pressure?

(Chris DelGrosso's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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