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Hazing: Still going on, still claiming lives


As the one year anniversary of the death of a nineteen year old fraternity pledge at Clemson University approaches, new details are emerging about what really happened that awful night of September 22, 2014. According to a new witness who has just recently come forward, Tucker Hipps was pledging the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon that night when three fraternity brothers forced him to walk along a narrow railing on a bridge near Clemson University, and then walk along the railing itself. Hipps slipped, caught the railing, and then tried to climb back on the bridge--unassisted. Hipps lost his grip and fell head first to the water below, hitting his head on the rocks on his way down. No one tried to rescue him, and no one began even looking for him for at least three hours. The campus police were not contacted for over seven hours. Hipps' body was later found floating in the water.

Clemson University suspended Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity for five years due to Tucker Hipps' death and other troubling incidents that had been reported prior to his death. Hipps' family filed wrongful death and survival action lawsuits earlier this year against Clemson University, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and three fraternity members, seeking in excess of $50 million in damages.


Tragically, the death of Tucker Hipps is not an isolated or even rare occurrence. Between 2000-2014, hazing rituals have resulted in the deaths of 57 college students. Sororities play a minor role but also participate in this dangerous tradition; five of these deaths were women. It is important to note that hazing cuts across all types of schools, whether they are elite Ivy League Universities, storied old Southern Schools, or state schools in the mid-west and west. Hazing, and its devastating results, is a truly national problem.

Not only does hazing cut across socio-economic and geographic boundaries, but it takes many forms. The rituals themselves can be deceptively simple--and deadly. In February of 2011, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Cornell University hazed its sophomore pledges by forcing them to drink a huge number of shots of hard alcohol while tied up. One of their pledges, George Desdunes, passed out, and was carried to a sofa in the fraternity house and left there. He was found the next morning by the fraternity cleaners--dead.

Alcohol poisoning, choking on vomit, lack of medical care or even supervision after drinking, and accidents while drunk have all claimed the lives of pledges. Furthermore, a "pledge" is not only a person seeking initiation into Greek life. A 2008 University of Maine study found that 55% of students who join not only fraternities and sororities but also sports teams and activities on campus have experienced hazing.


Hazing is in essence a form of bullying. When students are caught in such a situation, they should try to influence the group before any action is taken by convincing the group to consider the long-term consequences of any proposed hazing. Students should create peer connections and have a back-up plan in case a dangerous situation arises. If a student can organize the group to act together to prevent violence, he or she should do so. However, a student should not act alone in a dangerous situation to stop a violent hazing ritual.

Parents should be aware of certain "red flag" behaviors that may indicate their child is being hazed. For instance, if a child is engaging in activities meant to earn his or her place in an organization that are inconsistent with that child's character, or if the activities are embarrassing or even abusive, then the child may be undergoing hazing. Similarly, if a child is losing weight, showing signs of depression, or avoiding coming home, he or she may be an unwilling participant in hazing. If your child seems withdrawn from family and friends, this too can be a sign that he or she is hiding the trauma of hazing.


No one should die the senseless deaths that Tucker Hipps, George Desdunes, and so many other students have due to hazing. If you suspect that your child is being hazed, or if you or your child has been injured due to a hazing or pledging event, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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