Last Monday morning, 20-year-old Texas State Phi Kappa Psi pledge Matthew Ellis was found unresponsive following a fraternity party in San Marcos that Sunday evening. After his death, Texas State University opted to suspend all fraternity and sorority activities in order to review Greek life on campus.
If the autopsy reports show that Ellis died of an alcohol-related fatality related to fraternity hazing, as the events leading to his death imply, he will be the fourth pledge this year killed by violent or abusive hazing rituals. Similar investigations followed deaths at Florida State University, Louisiana State University and Penn State in the last 10 months.
These fatalities are not isolated events — there have been over 60 fraternity-related deaths in the United States since 2005. Most of these result from alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related deaths, drug overdoses or accidents in and around fraternity houses, including deadly falls from multi-story houses.
As a prospective student, I had an interest in joining a fraternity as an opportunity to make supportive friends in the transition to college, and I had several positive experiences with members. After hearing about drug use and hazing rituals at the houses I had visited, however, I got scared off the path of rushing.
For interested students like myself, the benefits of joining a fraternity are drowned out by how they treat their pledges. It’s hard to focus on the potential to foster leadership, community and personal growth when an organization projects a reputation of ritual humiliation, sexual violence and backwards social practices.
“Until proven otherwise,” says Douglas Fierberg in The Atlantic, “they all are very risky organizations for young people to be involved in.” Fierberg, a top attorney in fraternity-related litigation, maintains that fraternities “are part of an industry that has tremendous risk and a tremendous history of rape, serious injury, and death, and the vast majority share common risk-management policies that are fundamentally flawed.”
If fraternities wish to maintain a privileged position on campus and control their reputation, they must hold their members to a higher standard. Some have put this into practice, with Sigma Alpha Epsilon suspending UT’s chapter following reports of alleged hazing earlier this month.
Fraternities are institutions of university life that are almost as old as college itself. But if they don’t see it fit to enact effectual change amongst their members, their brotherhood of men may see itself in decline.
Kunz is an English freshman from New Braunfels.