Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hazing Is Part of the Culture at Some Schools

String of hazing incidents preceded death at Prairie View

Danny Robbins, The Associated Press

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas – One of Texas' oldest universities has sought to come to grips in the last year with one of the age-old problems of campus life – hazing. But officials at Prairie View A&M were aware of a problem long before the death of a fraternity pledge during a physically punishing initiation ritual.

Interviews and records reveal that the death last October of 20-year-old Donnie Wade II of Dallas was at least the seventh hazing incident in seven years brought to the attention of officials at the historically black institution 45 miles northwest of Houston.

University administrators said they believe they've done everything possible to curb hazing on their campus. Those efforts include suspending offending organizations and conducting annual programs with an anti-hazing message.

Since Wade's death, all student groups have been barred from recruiting new members until an anti-hazing workshop is held next month.

But some experts who have studied college hazing say the number of incidents indicates that the school may not have been vigilant enough.

Ricky Jones, a professor of pan-African studies at the University of Louisville and author of a book on hazing by black Greek-letter organizations, said Prairie View's practice of suspending groups instead of kicking them off campus for good has allowed the problem to fester.

"Schools are falling short if they don't have a true zero-tolerance policy," he said.

Wade collapsed after he and other prospective members of the Dangerous Delta Theta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma participated in predawn physical training. The initiation ritual included pushups, situps, running in place, running the bleachers and other exercises.

Instead of calling emergency personnel, fraternity members drove Wade to a hospital 30 miles away, where he was dead on arrival. An autopsy concluded he had suffered from medical conditions aggravated by the training.

In a lawsuit filed against Phi Beta Sigma and several members, Wade's parents allege that the hazing also included paddling and a strict bread and water diet.

The results of a criminal investigation are to be presented to a Waller County grand jury today. But while tragedy has prompted stringent action, interviews, correspondence obtained by the AP under the Texas Public Records Act and other records reveal a campus where students joining organizations endured paddling, verbal abuse, midnight runs and other hazing in the months and years before Wade's death.

One incident in 2008, involving a sorority linked to the school's nationally known band, sent a student to the hospital with a concussion and prompted a public warning from the university's late band director, George Edwards.

"Somebody can lose their life behind it, and it's not worth it," Edwards, who died last year, told the website Inside Higher Ed.

School president George C. Wright said in an interview that he has been troubled by a "code of silence" that has protected hazing at the university. But he would not second-guess the school's responses to the earlier incidents.

"There's nothing more we could have done before the Wade incident," he said.

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