Bowling Green State University student’s death renews conversations about hazing: NPR
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No deaths have been reported from college hazing incidents in 2020, but as campuses reopen to students, there have already been two hazing-related deaths this year. Eight men face a slew of charges, including manslaughter, reckless homicide, tampering with evidence and violating underage alcohol laws after Stone Foltz, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, died March 7 of alcohol poisoning.
At a press conference on April 29, Wood County District Attorney Paul Dobson described the fraternity event in which initiates were asked to drink 750ml of hard alcohol – roughly 40 shots according to Hank Nuwer, author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives. Dobson said Foltz’s death was “the result of a fatal level of alcohol poisoning during a hazing incident.”
Experts like Nuwer fear that as students return to in-person learning and eager to participate in the “college experience,” more hazing-related deaths could be on the way.
“There seems to be a disconnect not seeing that alcohol-related hazing can kill,” he says.
Nuwer is professor emeritus of journalism at Franklin College and author of five books on hazing. He spoke with NPR All things Considered on how the Stone Foltz case might reshape the pursuit of hazing, how college campuses are creating a “perfect storm” for hazing, and how to end the practice, once and for all.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On the legal history of the persecution of hazing
There have been accusations from the start, but often they are dropped or fail. I consider this to be a historic case due to the possibility of at least five years in prison, if the prosecutor is successful.
We have 44 state hazing laws, but some are very, very weak. And Ohio is weak now, but they’re trying to make it stronger after Ohio University death [in 2018], and now Bowling Green.
On what it means to return to college campuses for hazing
What I am seeing is actually we have two first year classes as far as the second year students have taken courses online. Now they’re going to be there and they haven’t had any hazing or alcohol education programs. They come there with enthusiasm because now it is the people of status who have the power over these promises. And then the regular freshman class comes up, all excited as usual, and we’ve seen so many times a death occurs in the first two days of students on campus, sometimes before they’ve taken a single. Classes.
On the challenges of ending fraternity hazing
In my opinion, campuses are the perfect storm for something like this because we are all about status and power. All of these obstacles led to today when alcohol was added to the mix. There was not a single alcohol-related death before 1940. Now it is one of the largest. [causes of hazing-related deaths]. There were 62 deaths from 2009 to 2021; 39 were related to alcohol.
On whether colleges are resetting this part of campus culture
I want a tough approach. You have to go after the elders who encourage it. You need to punish all hazing – not temporarily. This tradition must cease and it cannot be considered a tradition. Like M. [Paul] Dobson, the prosecutor, done in the Stone Foltz case: you sued whenever possible [of the law].
Karen Zamora and Patrick Jarenwattananon produced and edited the audio story. Cyrena Touros adapted it for the Web.