America has a long and dark history of college hazing that has seen nearly 300 young students die in accidents while being introduced to Greek life.
The latest incident to shock the country was the October 2021 hazing of Danny Santulli, a 19-year-old who survived severe alcohol poisoning but is now blind and in a wheelchair as a result.
Danny’s family attorney, David Bianchi, described it as the worst case of hazing the country has ever seen.
“You couldn’t be more hurt and still alive,” he told DailyMail.com this week after filing a lawsuit against two of the fraternity boys involved. While Danny survived, over 200 other children did not.
There is no official database of hazing deaths or injuries, thanks in large part to the blanket of secrecy that is immediately thrown over incidents by universities, fraternities, and sororities.
Danny Santulli, left, before suffering brain damage after a night of forced drinking at the University of Missouri, and right, recently. He is blind and can no longer walk or speak.
There have been hundreds of hazing deaths across America over the past 20 years. Some of the most recent incidents – dating back to 2011 – are shown above
The closest tally to an official tally comes from Hank Nuwer, a journalist who has covered hazing and written several books on the subject.
According to his count, there were 179 hazing deaths in American colleges between 1838 and 1999, and another 101 between 2000 and 2022.
Three boys died in 2021 after schools reopened after a year-long closure due to COVID. There were no hazing deaths in 2020 and so far there have been none in 2022.
In recent years, deaths from alcohol poisoning have increased. In all three suspected hazing deaths in 2021, the victim died of acute alcohol poisoning.
There was a brief gap in hazing deaths in 2020 when college campuses closed in the wake of COVID-19.
Now, with more children rushing back to school, there are fears of an uptick – and experts say, however, that hazing will be harder to control now that more children are taking the rituals off-campus, out of sight of the schools that monitor them.
Pledges are loaded into the back of a U-Haul van to be driven to a hazing event at Northeastern University
“Everything goes underground,” Nuwer told DailyMail.com. He said the rise started in 1995, when the tradition of “passing bottles” began.
This is a pledge of an entire bottle of alcohol – normally cheap vodka – to be finished in one evening.
Nuwer’s research — which involves interviews with fraternity brothers and psychologists — reveals that the whole act is underpinned by camaraderie.
“There is denial after the incident that happened, blindness among the members of the fraternity, just like the government of the Bay of Pigs.
“If you do something risky long enough, something bad is going to happen, but they don’t see it coming. Interview after interview I find them surprised and I don’t think it’s a false surprise.
He said the only way to stop the hazing is to stop the tradition of the pledge – but colleges and fraternities are reluctant.
A 1905 article from The Albuquerque Evening Citizen details how student Stuart L. Pierson was tied to railroad tracks and struck by a locomotive during a hazing ritual at Kenyon College.
“These slaps on the wrists don’t help anyone. I think it makes the fraternity members arrogant and thoughtful. Everyone should have a good time, but no one should die for a good time.
“By doing research and talking to people, [it seems] it’s a form of cheap entertainment – it’s a kind of domestic violence. They are called brothers son dads, it is in a house.
“We need to end the pledges – end this power dynamic,” Nuwer added.
Adam Oakes (left) died at Virginia Commonwealth University last February from alcohol poisoning. Phat Nguyen (right) died in November at Michigan State University
In another incident in 2019, Western Michigan University student Bailey Broderick was killed when she was hit by a van driven by a drunk who was carrying out one of her duties – transporting her fraternity brothers on the campus. Hunter Hudgins has been charged in her death
Stone Foltz, pictured with his parents, died last year in an alcohol hazing at Bowling Green State University
Although alcohol poisoning is one of the leading causes of death from hazing, it is not the only root of the problem.
According to Huwer’s database, John Butler Groves died in a hazing incident in 1838. It is unclear what exactly the hazing incident involved as school records were destroyed in a fire.
Other incidents include that of Stuart Lathrop Pierson, an 18-year-old who died in 1905 after being tied to railroad tracks as part of a hazing prank at Kenyon College’s Delta Kappa Epsilon in Ohio.
Drum Major Robert Champion was beaten to death in 2011 by fraternity boys taking part in a hazing challenge
A newspaper article from that year is headlined, “Was This Student Hazed to Death?
The coroner found that Stuart had either been tied to the tracks or was unable to move away quickly enough when an engine train approached him.
In another incident in 2019, Western Michigan University student Bailey Broderick was killed when she was hit by a van driven by a drunk who was carrying out one of her duties – transporting her fraternity brothers on the campus.
In 2018, Collin Wiant died of asphyxiation after inhaling nitrous oxide from a can of whipped cream at Sigma Pi.
Five years earlier, students Marvell Edmondson and Jauwan Holmes both drowned after a night of drinking at Virginia State University. They had tried to swim in a river.
Hazing is a criminal offense in 13 states if it causes serious harm or death.
These states are Florida, Texas, California, Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New Jersey.
Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana do not have specific hazing laws.
Parents of drum major Robert Champion, who was beaten to death in 2011, sit in court as his killers are charged with manslaughter