They didn’t sound like rituals that real sisters would require of each other. But according to a wrongful death suit filed against an East Carolina University sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, 2010 pledges from the group were forced to go long hours without sleep, put hot sauce on their lips, and stand on one leg holding bricks over their heads while sorority sisters ridiculed them.
Bernadette Carter, mother of Victoria T’nya-Ann Carter, a pledge who was killed in a car accident on Nov. 20, 2010, says in her suit that the sorority’s rituals meant the pledge driving the car early that morning didn’t get enough rest and fell asleep at the wheel. The car hit a tree. Another young woman was killed as well, and two survived the crash, including the driver, who pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor death by vehicle.
The sorority has been suspended by its national organization and is on probation at ECU.
This tragedy isn’t the first of its kind involving alleged hazing in a college environment. Just recently, N.C. Central University in Durham has had to investigate allegations of hazing involving the “drum line” that’s part of its marching band. And Florida A&M University is facing a wrongful death suit because of the death of a drum major allegedly subjected to a hazing ritual on a bus.
Fraternities and sororities may institute all the internal rules against hazing they like, but too often, such rules are a show to please university officials, and hazing goes on anyway. Much of it is silly and demeaning, but as long as it exists in any form there is a risk that a particular pledge class will be subjected to extraordinary and dangerous cruelty by big brothers or big sisters of a given year.
While universities may not say so, some would like to curb the Greek systems to a good extent. Yes, many student members do worthy charitable work, provide fellowship for students, etc., but hazing seems an inevitable part of the system.
Universities often try to cite the independence of sororities and fraternities (national chapters often own houses, which in most cases are not on university property) as reasons for the difficulty in regulating them. In one sense that’s true. But the organizations couldn’t exist as independent entities having no association with a school.
And the “character building” and “lifelong friendships” they say they build affect, in a given year, a relative handful of students. When suits such as these arise, universities, particularly public universities, might well wonder if the whole system is worth it.
These are not just injuries, in these alleged incidents. Young people died. It should not take a financially back-breaking loss or settlement in a lawsuit to force a change in rules or permanent suspensions or other action on the part of universities, which by the way suffer considerable damage to their own reputations as a result of such tragedies. An ECU mother has lost her daughter. A FAMU family has lost a son. This should not happen in this way, ever.