A Cornell University freshman found dead at the bottom of a nearby gorge was the victim of an elaborate hazing that forced fraternity pledges to drink dangerous quantities of alcohol while cycling through seven themed rooms, the parents of the late student said in a lawsuit announced Wednesday.
The body of 18-year-old Antonio Tsialas, of Miami, Florida, was found Oct. 26, one day after his mother, who was in upstate New York for a parents weekend, reported him missing.
The first-year student was last seen at an unregistered “Christmas in October” event at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house Oct. 24. Authorities have yet to piece together what happened between the time he left and the discovery of his body.
“We have patiently waited for three months for answers about what happened to our son and no one will tell us anything,” John Tsialas said in a news release.
The parents' lawsuit claims the university has been ineffective at stopping a longstanding problem with hazing. The fraternity was undeterred by a campus misconduct hearing held just the day before, according to the lawsuit, and its officers “had nothing to fear by doing it again.”
A Cornell spokesman said the university could not comment on pending litigation. He said Tsialas' death remains under investigation. Phi Kappa Psi's executive director, Ronald Ransom II, said via email that the organization was aware of the lawsuit but had not been served and does not discuss pending litigation.
Following the death of Tsialas, Cornell University President Martha Pollack announced several policy changes governing Greek activities at the Ivy League school. Among them, chapters now must hire independent monitors for all events and submit to random spot checks by roving university security teams.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday details a night of binge-drinking throughout the main floor of the fraternity house. A “tropical room” saw students limbo under a stick while sorority members poured alcohol into their mouths. A “Jewish room” served vodka and beer and a “beer room” had teams competitively drinking.
“After the first round of drinking beer, each freshman was then held upside down over a trash can filled with water as their head was submerged under the water,” the lawsuit says. The 36 fraternity hopefuls could not leave the “Santa Claus room” until finishing full bottles of vodka.
Tsialas' body was found wearing the same clothes he had worn the night of the alleged hazing, except for a white polo shirt he'd had on under his high school soccer team sweatshirt. That was found in a bush on the side of the gorge, stained with vomit and a footprint, the Tsialas family's attorney, David Bianchi, said.
The legal action names Cornell University, the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, its chapter adviser and eight individuals, including seven students.