Fraternity Violence in Higher Education

Fraternity-Related Violence and Deaths

Statistics of deaths in U.S. school campuses suggest that there are more than 60 fraternity-related deaths since 2005. The common causes of deaths are fraternity hazing and pledge-related activities, clashes between fraternities, and gang rape. Moreover, these deadly fraternal activities occurred in fraternity houses on college campuses around the world. In Istanbul for instance, members of rival fraternity brutally stabbed a student of Ege University who later died in the hospital.

Neophytes of school fraternity have to undergo physically demanding rites and rituals to become a full member of the group. However, some initiation rites are so violent and deadly such as the hazing incident that killed Michael Davis, a junior journalism student at Missouri State University in 1994.

The hallmark of all hazing deaths according to one study is the failure of fraternity members to recognize the severity of hazing situation while the common cause of student death is severe injuries from brutal beatings. Other fraternity-related injuries and deaths include clashes between rival fraternities, fires in fraternity houses, and binge drinking.

Fraternity violence is a campus safety issue and poses ethical problems which violate rules and honor codes. Why fraternities still exist?

Fraternity and Academic Institutions’ Civil and Criminal Liability

In defense of fraternities, fraternity leaders argue that they are student organization symbolizing the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity in school. Moreover, although they did cause some serious problems in the past, they did a number of good things like charity and community service. In other words, the “good outweighs the harms”.

Under the law, schools have duties of care to keep students safe and therefore legally liable for injuries and deaths caused by fraternity violence. For instance, in Furek v. The university of Delaware, the trial court awarded Jeffrey Furek damages for fraternity hazing injuries. The University provided 93% of this damage award while the remaining 7% came from Joseph Donchez, the fraternity member directly responsible for the injuries. The national fraternity, on the other hand, was free of any liability. The court announced that the duty of reasonable care was breached when the university, despite its knowledge of ongoing hazing activities inside the campus, failed to protect Furek from harm.

There is clearly a good reason why some universities banned and refused to recognize any fraternity. In 1983 for instance, Princeton University, after banning three fraternities for over a century, announced that it would continue to deny fraternities and sororities of school’s recognition. Similarly, responding to fraternity violence and incident of gang rape on campus, the University of Pennsylvania successfully disbanded a fraternity through a court order.

In reality, fraternities can have unrecognized chapters in any school thus colleges and universities must be ready to defend themselves against potential liability associated with a duty of care. Since liability is highly dependent on school officials’ reaction to knowledge of hazing activities and performance of their duty to care, the best defense probably is to create and enforced an anti-hazing policy.

The reason is the fact that school officials primarily need to convince the court that they are against hazing. Second, the court cannot use the reaction to knowledge of hazing as infringement, as hazing activities outside school premises is difficult to detect and clearly outside an officials’ assumed duty of care.


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