The Daily Record, April 29, 1998
Hazing--Why is it allowed to continue?
By William Raspberry,
Even after all these years, I understand the importance of being able to take it. What I never understood was the desire to dish it out.
I wrote those words four years and two months ago, after Michael Davis was beaten to death by members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity--my fraternity--during a particularly brutal hazing affair at Southeast Missouri State University.
I still don't understand. I don't understand the assault-hazing that has another would-be Kappa in the hospital, undergoing dialysis.
Ernest L. Harris Jr., 23, reportedly suffered kidney damage when he was beaten with fists, paddles and canes as he sought to join the Kansas State University alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.
I don't understand what perverted sense of incipient brotherhood could have led Kappas at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, to undertake a two-month campaign of paddlings and canes that landed five pledges in the hospital, where they underwent surgery for cuts and infections on their buttocks caused by the daily beatings.
I remember my own pledging days--Nu Chapter--and, yes, I remember some paddling, more humiliating than painful. I remember why we pledges underwent the brutality: We wanted to show we could take it, that we were worthy of being Kappas.
Show Up Just To Beat Pledges
But I remember something else: There were a couple of "big brothers" who were known to be particularly brutal. These included a couple of older guys, no longer in college, who would show up for the express purpose of beating pledges. And I remember a couple of pledges who said they couldn't wait till they were able to do the same thing to yet another crop of pledges.
Apparently it is still fairly routine for carloads of "big brothers" to drive to distant campuses for the sick pleasure of beating young men they never saw before (and whom they will shortly embrace and welcome as "brothers"). Isn't this just a little strange?
I need to say here that Kappa Alpha Psi isn't the only fraternity that has gone overboard with hazing. Indeed, hazing excesses are a recurring story, involving a large number of fraternities. That's why so many campuses have outlawed hazing.
What Can Be Done To Fix It
But it's the Kappas that concern me now - partly because they seem so slow to learn limits (the national chapter wound up settling a $32.25 million lawsuit in the February 1994 death of Michael Davis), but mostly because it's my fret. I want somebody to tell me what's gone wrong and what we "old heads" might do to help fix it.
Mr Harris' father who lives in Wichita, said this was the second time his son had pledged Kappa. He first pledged last year while he was still an undergraduate at KSU, but dropped out after he was injured. He offered no details of the earlier pain his son underwent but he spoke powerfully to mine:
"I just don't understand how a black fraternity, someone who is going to assist you, someone who is supposed to be a brother who is going to help you, how they could hurt somebody like this."
I don't either. I don't understand how anyone could want to inflict that sort of beating on a rival fraternity member from a detested campus, much less on someone who is on the verge of becoming a "brother."
They Do Not Go Unpunished
I know these are isolated incidents and that, as a rule, they do not go unpunished.
Kansas State, for instance, has suspended the chapter involved in Mr. Harris' beating, and the Eastern Shore beatings are under investigation.
But somehow the message doesn't seem to get out that this sort of behavior is not to be tolerated--and not merely because it brings embarrassment to a justly proud fraternity.
Maybe it's necessary for law enforcement officials to stop treating physical hazings as boys-will-be-boys misdemeanors and prosecute them as the assaults they are.
Perhaps a little jail time might get the attention of some frat members who don't seem to hear more measured warnings.
And for the fraternity itself: Maybe it's time to think about publicly announced expulsions from the organization of those who persist in committing acts of brutality in its name.
By the way, doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where be was undergoing dialysis, say Mr. Harris may be able to go home as early as next week. The damage to his kidney, they say, is reversible.
And what of the damage to Kappa Alpha Psi? Who's going to reverse that?