Coverage of deaths associated with Greek Life have become far too prevalent in today’s media. Experts claim that college binge drinking combined with the consequence-free attitude that Greek Life cultivates causes the majority of these tragedies. To many this is old news, but now it’s an outdated perception.
On Dec. 17, 2012, members of Northern Illinois University’s chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity were charged with hazing crimes following the Nov. 2 death of freshman David Bogenberger. The event in question was a hazing ritual, which required pledges to go room-to-room answering questions in exchange for alcohol. Authorities claim that Bogenberger was found dead the next morning from a cardiac arrhythmia with alcohol intoxication being a significant contributing factor. His blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit at the time of his death. The students involved face penalties that will alter the rest of their lives, including fines and possible jail time. Additionally, their national fraternity could be facing a massive lawsuit with all students involved facing possible expulsion from the university.
Many opponents of Greek Life have already labeled this event as another example of the dangerous, reckless behavior that’s ingrained in fraternity culture. While these events are indisputably tragic, this understanding fails to recognize that this was not a failure of an institution, but more so the failure of individuals to act responsibly. The fraternity held an event that went against school policies and their national fraternity’s risk management plan, as well as state and local laws. Their complete disregard for any rules was a significant factor in a young man’s death and they should be held accountable.
Though my heart goes out to the Bogenberger family as they try to process this tragedy, there is also some responsibility on them. Their child died with a BAC of approximately .4 — keep in mind most people black out around .15 to .25. This shows a clear lack of knowledge and responsibility regarding alcohol on the part of David, who should have learned these things from his parents. The prevalence of alcohol and binge drinking in college has been documented for years. This demands that parents convey the high risks of alcohol to their kids and the danger it poses before they send their children off to college.
Organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving have given us a false sense of security. MADD believes that increasing the drinking age and punishing alcohol abusers more harshly protects children. Instead, parents must actively and continuously remind their children of the dangers of alcohol before they go off to college. Any parent who is still naive enough to believe that their child will just figure out alcohol on their own is endangering their loved ones. It’s not fair to consistently blame a lack of parenting on Greek Life, which actively does its part to protect its members.
Michigan’s Interfraternity Council has paved the way nationally with extensive risk management plans designed to avoid these types of tragedy. Ian Hickman, former vice president of social responsibility told me in a statement that, “the Greek community at the University of Michigan already has appropriate safeguards in place, such as a zero tolerance policy for hazing.” He also named the Greek-wide Hazing Task Force and Greek Appellate Review Board to investigate hazing allegations.
These programs are designed to inform individuals and prevent these types of incidents from ever occurring in the first place. After reviewing the Social Environment Management Policy, it’s clear that an event like the one that occurred at NIU violates numerous policies and should result in the severe disciplinary action being taken against the fraternity.
Hickman goes on to explain that issues of confirmed hazing are rare at Michigan, but that they would be met with the chapter’s expulsion from Greek Life. These rules, which students have taken years to develop and implement, make Greek Life as safe as it can be. By no means does this mean that there will never be a Greek-related death, but because of the hard work of our leaders, it’s no longer a failure of the institution. Instead, we need to re-evaluate how we prepare individuals for college and start talking about alcohol. College is a dangerous time for young adults, but the Greek system is not endangering individuals, as many would have you believe. It’s no longer justifiable to blindly blame the Greek system for deaths such as David Bogenberger. Instead, we should harshly punish those individuals who give Greek Life a negative reputation.
Timothy Burroughs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.