Officials at Binghamton University are more than likely recoiling from a report published on page A1 of the New York Times on Wednesday that details complaints stemming from last spring's hazing scandal that forced the university to temporarily halt pledging all of the school's fraternities and sororities. (Three fraternities currently are banned from recruiting new members, say officials, and a sorority is on probation.)
The paper published numerous emails sent by students and parents to the school pleading with it to crack down on what they described as dangerous hazing rituals.
One student wrote: "I was hosed, waterboarded, force-fed disgusting mixtures of food, went through physical exercises until I passed out, and crawled around outside in my boxers to the point where my stomach, elbows, thighs and knees are filled with cuts, scrapes and bruises."
Others said they were thrown into a freezing shower, blindfolded, driven miles from campus and relieved of their phones, and forced to walk barefoot in the snow, resulting in frostbite. One pledge said she was "forced to eat concoctions meant to make pledges vomit on one another" and to hold hot coals in her hands.
"My entire tenure from start to finish, I was scared to death that someone was going to die," said Sunni Solomon, the former assistant director of Greek life at Binghamton, in an email to the Times.
No one died at Binghamton, but at least six deaths relating to hazing—including Robert Champion, the Florida A&M drum major who died following a ritual beating by other band members—were reported at other U.S. schools in the last two years.
According to Hank Nuwer, who chronicles hazing deaths among U.S. college students, there have been 137 deaths resulting from hazing initiations since 1940—and 70 since 1990.
In 2011, a 19-year-old sophomore died after a night of heavy drinking at a Cornell frat house. His mother filed a wrongful death suit against the school, alleging "he was kidnapped in the early morning of Feb. 25 by fraternity pledges who bound his wrists and ankles with zip ties and duct tape, then forced him to drink until he passed out."
An autopsy showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.409 percent, five times the legal limit. Cornell subsequently launched an independent task force to study the hazing problem.
"Greek Life at Cornell, after 144 years, is at a tipping point," the task force wrote in a preliminary report. "The Greek Community has a choice: We can recognize and respond to threats like dangerous hazing and high risk drinking or we can cease to exist."
The task force recommended an "end to pledging as we know it," and the development of an initiation process "free of degradation, humiliation or any other form of hazing."
Among other solutions still being mulled: "Make Cornell a dry campus and/or a dry Greek system"; "eliminate all Greek residences, convert to social clubs"; "establish faculty in residence in every house"; and lower the drinking age to 18 (making off-campus bars accessible). All would effectively emasculate fraternities and sororities.
Just 10 percent of Binghamton's students are members of fraternities and sororities, according to Student Life data. But 39 percent of its 11,861 undergraduates live off campus—meaning there's plenty of partying going on away from the school. (The first of Binghamton's "Ten Commandments," the student newspaper recently joked, would be "Thou shalt not vomit in a cab.")
The Times report on Binghamton's hazing complaints comes just days before the start of National Hazing Prevention Week, Sept. 24-28.
Some commenters on the N.Y Times story, though, were not so sympathetic.
"I don't understand these complaints," one wrote. "Is someone forcing these people to join these archaic institutions?"
"Every time a parent complains about how his or her child is being hazed, the university should respond, 'If your little snowflake doesn't want to get waterboarded, then maybe he/she shouldn't choose to hang out with people who want to waterboard them.'"
"If you don't want to get hazed then don't pledge, it is really that simple," wrote another.
"Having gone to SUNY Binghamton years ago, I can say it's not that simple," an apparent alumni countered. "There is no real college town there. There's very little for students to do except drink and study. And then drink some more. There is no social scene except drinking."
- fraternities and sororities