Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Metphistopheles Previous Previous Next Next
When will they ever learn? - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
When will they ever learn?
It's almost 35 years since I covered the death of a fraternity pledge in a horrid rite of initiation, and this weekend brings news, closer to home from a campus further away, that another has died in a similar rite of passage-away:

An 18-year-old college student from Amherst died today, about 36 hours after he lapsed into unconsciousness during an underage drinking party at a fraternity house near West Virginia University.

The death of Nolan Michael Burch, a Canisius High School graduate, was announced this afternoon by E. Gordon Gee, president of the university in Morgantown, West Virginia.

[As reported in a later article:]  Based on conversations with Burch’s family, a family friend told The News that Burch was “challenged” by others present at the frat house into drinking large amounts of liquor at the party. Preston said he could not provide specifics on what happened at the party at this point in the investigation.

“His parents are in a situation that I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” the police chief said. “Nobody who sends their 18-year-old son or daughter off to college should ever have to deal with something like this.”

A second individual became ill at the same event that Burch was attending, Preston said. He said police are trying to determine what happened to that person.

The WVU fraternity in question is one once affiliated with the national Kappa Sigma organization. The national office pulled its charter on account of earlier bad conduct, and now disclaims reponsibility for the death on that ground. UB also has a rogue Kappa Sigma chapter, which the university warns against joining- a red cape in the eyes of any Red Bull-drinking 18 year old I ever knew.

This is not the same as drinking parties on the baseball team or a school club. These are organizations with long-standing traditions of mystery and secrecy. Wikileaks got its hands on and published the text of the national Kappa Sigma initiation document, and it's a Dan Brown-worthy ritual of bizarre mumbo jumbo.   Among other promises, the pledges vow that their "first duty is to God and your family, then to the Fraternity, then to your fellow man in general." That latter group also includes university and police investigators, who will likely have has hard a time with this lot today as their counterparts in Ithaca, New York did 35 Aprils ago.


April 1980 was my last semester of junior year, and my journalist career to date was unremarkable. I had a full class schedule including an Honors program, was working two jobs, and had joined the paper a year behind the eagerer of beavers. This got me the less than preferred city beat, including what little there was to cover at the far less famous Ithaca College across town.  There was the occasional lecture or performance, and a fire or labor dispute here and there, but all that changed after word came down from the other hill about the tragic death of a student there:

In the early morning hours of April 2, 1980, freshman Joseph Parrella collapsed in Terrace 6. He had been participating in Delta Kappa fraternity’s initiation rites, which involved the 14 DK pledges doing 100 pushups, then running up and down a steep hill, doing 100 more pushups and sprinting up and down the hill again. The concerned DK brothers circled around Parrella, who had become severely overheated and was having difficulty breathing, and asked how he was feeling, to which Parrella reportedly replied, “Sucky.”

Sensing the seriousness of the situation, the fraternity brothers carried him into the hallway and removed his clothing in an attempt to cool him off. A brother began administering CPR and called an ambulance. Parrella was then transported to the Tompkins County Hospital, where he later died from hyperthermia, or heatstroke, as a result of the intense calisthenics he and the other pledges participated in.

In June 1980, a Tompkins County grand jury investigation found DK guilty of hazing, murder and “collective stupidity.” This prompted the college to reevaluate the need for Greek life. While professional music fraternities were allowed to continue, social fraternities and sororities were subsequently dissolved.

I was the lead reporter on this story after it broke, getting my stories into national collegiate syndication and ultimately leading to a position with the daily/Sunday papers in Syracuse which almost diverted me from law school.  I listened in pain as the local DA could do nothing with the grand jury's charges (other than the "stupidity" part, which, not surprisingly, is not illegal in New York State). The brothers toed the thin Greek line, all took the Fifth (amendment, this time), and left prosecutors with insufficient evidence to charge anybody beyond some wrist-slapping misdemeanors. As the link above notes, Ithaca College used the incident as reason to shut down its campus Greek system, but numerous fraternities and sororities, including the Delta Kappa brothers who killed Parrella, re-formed unofficially and now have large percentages of students wanting them welcomed back with official collegiate arms so they can host more events and kill, rape and maim again.

Yes, I'm bitter about history repeating itself. No, I was never in a fraternity.  Yes, I was thrilled when our daughter showed no interest in that aspect of college life.  I hope these "brothers" get everything the criminal justice system can do to deter this form of winkingly legalized harm to their fellow students, but after seeing that system fail at that 35 Aprils ago, I'd put that hope in the thimbly small category.

3 comments or Leave a comment
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: November 16th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: November 16th, 2014 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes, Minister Marshall;)

Yes, well, I'm sure Greek tags are all very well in their way; but can we stick to the point?
wookiemonster From: wookiemonster Date: November 16th, 2014 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Frats and sororities at UD are much the same. Well, the social ones, at least. My sister was in a music fraternity - SAI - and just had memorizing the history and such. And there are some decent honor society frats and such. But the social ones? Yeah, lots of drinking, lots sent to the ER, lost of stupid property destruction either as part of hazing or as a result of pushing people to be too drunk to have any common sense or decency. If UD were serious about breaking their party school image, they'd get rid of the social greek life.

That, and if they were serious about academic honesty. There's a hell of an underground racket going for papers and cheating and such.

Fortunately, I never felt the need to pay people to be my friends.

Now, when I was on the dance team, yeah there were parties and there was drinking. Fortunately, no raping, and people were responsible. If someone had too much, their keys were taken and they were put on a couch or somesuch to sleep it off. Or given a ride home by someone else.
3 comments or Leave a comment