Fraternities and sororities are a common characteristic of life on a college campus, and they often play a leading role in organizing student events. At the same time, we read often enough of tragic deaths that occurred as a result of rituals - only to be told that safety measures have been enacted and bad actors disqualified from university activities. From 2005 to this year, there have been 60 hazing-related deaths in fraternities across the United States. Rush season - selection and initiation - is when students will undergo a series of tests and rituals to become part of the fraternity. Often, however, much of this behavior can be classified as abusive and illegal.
The case of California State University, Northridge student and fraternity pledge Armando Villa is indicative of the nature of these hazing rituals. Villa, 19, collapsed and died during a Pi Kappa Phi "hike" in the Angeles National Forest on July 1st. Rescuers airlifted him out of the canyon where he was found, but it was already too late. Villa's family and friends are demanding how such an innocent-sounding outing led to his death. His parents had this to say:
Some people know what happened out there on the trail. They talk about a fraternity being a brotherhood based on honor, but neither the local chapter, the national parent organization of Pi Kappa Phi, nor any of Armando's so-called brothers have done the honorable thing by telling us what happened to our son.
The answer, we're afraid, is to be found in the continuing practice of hazing, which at its extremes can involve not only binge drinking and drug use, but also psychological and sexual abuse and various forms of deprivation. CSU Northridge has suspended Pi Kappa Phi and reaffirmed its no-tolerance policy on hazing. Some fraternities have eliminated the pledge process altogether to ensure that these abuses stop. Such acts are a step in the right direction, but we're still waiting for universities to get serious about putting a halt to the inherently harmful and dangerous aspects of Greek life - ones that can lead to yet another tragic and needless death in the campus community.
Read CSU Northridge's investigative report on Armando Villa's death.