Hazing: The struggle to end deadly wrongs of passage


Near Darke

By Hank Nuwer

For one year, Kathleen Wiant lobbied for passage of an Ohio anti-hazing law with teeth. It classified hazing into five felony categories.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law on July 6, 2021.

This law became “Collin’s Law,” named for Wiant’s son. Collin died in a hazing tragedy at Ohio University in 2018.

The Ohio law’s passage came too late for Bowling Green State University pledge Stone Foltz. Pi Kappa Alpha brothers in 2021 coerced him into drinking 40 shots of bourbon.

Parents removed Stone from life support.

On June 24, 2022, I spoke at Ohio State University at the HazingPrevention.org conference. The purpose was prevention: to train Greek Life educators, college students, and fraternity activists on safe, alternative ways to join a group without hazing.

HPO president Marc Mores kindly introduced me, an HPO founding director, as “the Godfather of Hazing.” My fifth book, Hazing: Destroying Young Lives, came out in 2018. My next will be Hazing in American Culture.

My first database of hazing deaths was published in Human Behavior magazine in 1978.

Since then, as a journalist, I have interacted with 50 families who have lost a child to hazing.

At Ohio State I had the sad honor of meeting parents Shari and Cory Foltz, as well as D. J. Williams, Stone’s aunt. The family now sends all schools a wakeup call to prevent hazing.

Also in my audience were student life members at BGSU.

These deaths never stop.

Now, the parents of Gracie Dimit have sued Emory & Henry College for her death at age 20 on July 16, 2020.

Gracie was a member of Kappa Phi Alpha (KPA) sorority.

To wit, a KPA driver in an SUV sped along a gravel road adjacent to campus at breath-neck speed while Gracie and two other KAPs screamed as if on a roller coaster.

Police reported the driver had indulged in cannabis and admitted sipping a partial alcoholic drink. Seconds before the crash, the KAP sisters took a group photo.

“Gracie’s life was at risk the moment she stepped foot in the car,” said nationally known activist Courtney White, cousin of pledge Adam Oakes who died in a hazing at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2021.

Emory & Henry students called the stunt “the 500,” a reference to the Indianapolis 500.

Gracie’s screams died as the car sailed off the gravel into a tree.

HPO’s belief that 2020 had been deathless disintegrated with Gracie Dimit’s’s tragic passing.

KPA sorority sister Lauren N. Salyer is facing a grand jury considering involuntary manslaughter charges.

It happens regularly that a death is found to be hazing a year following a tragedy.

Although rare, a death can occur to an initiated member like Gracie, no longer a pledge, according to Courtney White.

The database for Hanknuwer.com, my unofficial clearinghouse of hazing deaths, shows one or more deaths from hazing in student social groups each year from 1959 to 2021.

More astounding, one or more deaths from hazing in colleges and/or high school occurred annually from 1948 to 2021. Exceptions were 1952 and 1958.

When I started covering hazing deaths as a reporter nearly 50 years ago, the media referred to hazing as “good-natured” and a hazing death as “accidental.”

No more.

“Hazing is always intentional, it is not an accidental happening,” according to activist Evelyn Piazza, co-founder with husband Jim of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform. “People who engage in hazing think about it, discuss it, and plan for it.”

The Piazzas’ son died in 2017 following a brutal incident at a Penn State Beta Theta Pi party.

The Piazzas lobbied for successful passage of Pennsylvania’s Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law.

Can activists like HPO’s Mores; Wiant, Piazza and White ever eradicate hazing?

White said she and Adam’s parents hope school officials, legislators and students will “wake up before another young life is lost.”

She said Virginia legislators in 2022 failed to pass a proposed law named after her late cousin.

“Students should never be put in a life threatening situation in order to join or continue membership in any organization,” said Evelyn Piazza. “Gracie Dimit caught the bullet in the Russian Roulette game of doing the 500.”

2022 so far has been death free.

However, former University of Missouri Phi Gamma Delta pledge Danny Santulli now lies blind and paralyzed at home under his mother’s care.

“Fiji” members in 2021 made him drink a liter of booze and poured beer down his throat. He turned blue.

For more information on hazing, visit HazingPrevention.org, the Collin Wiant Foundation, the Piazza Memorial Foundation, Love Like Adam Foundation, or Love Like Gracie Foundation.

I’ve been the Godfather of Hazing far too long.

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.

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