California Polytechnic State University Greek Life Suspended

A California university has suspended all fraternities and sororities following racially insensitive incidents and become the latest school to crack down on campus fraternal organizations.

of The Washington Post reports:

The trouble at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo began April 8, when photos of a Lambda Chi Alpha party surfaced that showed white attendees — one in blackface — flashing gang signs. The university’s administration suspended the fraternity for at least a year.

Another party photo surfaced April 17, prompting administrators at the majority-white campus to broaden the suspension to include all fraternities and sororities. The image showed white members of Sigma Nu sporting saggy pants, tank tops and bandannas while drinking Coronas. “When you get he [sic] holmes to take a photo of la familia,” read the caption.

“Words cannot begin to explain how gut-wrenching it has been for me to witness the hurt so many have felt and continue to feel regarding the Lambda Chi Alpha incident,” said Jeffrey Armstrong, president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, in a lengthy statement issued last week. “I know the discomfort I sit with cannot compare with what so many of our students, faculty and staff of color feel.”

Last week, tensions ratcheted up on the campus. Professor Neal MacDougall discovered multiple racist messages over a few hours. A racial epithet was scrawled in a men’s bathroom. Fliers were posted on the professor’s bulletin board stating that African people have lower IQs and a higher propensity for rape and murder. And a poster attached to the professor’s office door declaring his willingness to help undocumented students was defiled, apparently with a sharp object.

“If you’re physically posting something — even horrible stuff — there’s kind of a passive element to it,” MacDougall, an instructor in Cal Poly’s agribusiness department, said. “But when someone kind of saw that sign and decided to take out whatever sharp object that they had and slashed that sign, that was a bit disturbing. I see that as a fundamentally violent act, and that made me uncomfortable.”

In the coming days, the administration is expected to delineate terms of the fraternity and sorority suspension, which the school’s president described as “indefinite,” and the conditions by which those organizations can return to active status, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said.

“Various Greek organizations have been the sources of numerous problems over the past few years,” Lazier said last week in a statement. “These problems have included racially charged and insensitive events, sexual assaults, hazing and alcohol-related deaths, and violations of the university’s code of conduct regarding hosting social events.”

“This is not an attempt to get rid of Greek life at Cal Poly,” he said. “Rather, it is a pause and a reset.”

Miguel Preciado, a junior majoring in agriculture business, said he could not imagine joining Lambda Chi Alpha, the fraternity linked to photos showing members flashing gang signs at a party.

“As a Mexican person, I completely would not feel comfortable at all trying to rush for the Lambdas or any fraternity that was ag-related because of how white it is,” he said.

Nikki Petkopoulos, a graduating senior who is Asian, said she has felt out of place at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Petkopoulos, who came from a predominantly Asian school in a San Francisco suburb, said she was taken aback by interactions with white students at the university.

Petkopoulos said she was assigned to live in the engineering dorm, even though she was a journalism major.

“Everybody was white, I was the only person who wasn’t,” she said. “And that’s fine.”

It became uncomfortable, she said, when she and other women would chat with men in the dorm, and the men would discuss women they find attractive.

“It started off kind of benign, like a little racist, but like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m only into blonde girls with blue eyes,’ ” she said. “But then they kind of have to take it a step further.”

One man made a habit of telling her he didn’t find Asian women attractive.

“Even a guy I dated would say some pretty racist stuff . . . like only Beyoncé could be an attractive black girl,” she said.

Petkopoulos said she believes the student wearing blackface should be expelled.

“There has been a new reckoning on campus,” she said. “And I think people making such a fuss in opposition to the movement are the type of people who don’t realize how much they think the world revolves around them.”

Click here to access the full article and here for more on fraternity misconduct.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, but action should be taken year round to reduce and eliminate child abuse.

This month and throughout the year The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law encourage all individuals and organizations to play a role in creating a better environment for children and families. Together we can help prevent child abuse and neglect by ensuring parents, teachers, and caregivers have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to care for and protect children.

The United States has one of the worst child abuse records among industrialized nations- losing on average between four and seven children every day to abuse and neglect. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before the reach the age 18. Child sexual abuse survivors are three to four times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and twice as likely to drop out of school, have a teenage pregnancy, and suffer from serious and long-term mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, among other physical and emotional problems.

Approximately 80 percent of these tragedies happen in isolated, one-on-one situations. But we can eliminate or reduce that dramatically by implementing new ways to safeguard our children. Youth organizations should have a clear code of conduct for staff and volunteers that is shared with parents and children, and background checks, including speaking directly to references, are imperative. Teachers, coaches and clergy should have open-door meetings with children.

As adults, we are all responsible for ensuring the safety of our children. We can do our best to arm children with child  abuse prevention training, but ultimately this endeavor lies directly with us. We can learn to become more vigilant at prevention and speak to our children honestly and openly about our bodies, sex and boundaries.

Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect


A Deadly Haze

Doug Fierberg and And our Clients will appear in A Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis, Airing on CNN Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET

When gruesome details of the death of 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza became public, college Greek life and the country’s fraternity system came under intense scrutiny.  A wide-ranging investigation examining hours of video, text messages between fraternity brothers and eyewitness testimony led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in history.  Now, more than two dozen young men face criminal charges.  In Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis airing Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET on CNN, Alisyn Camerota takes an in-depth look at what happened to Piazza inside the walls of the Beta Theta Pi house and the alleged coverup that ensued.

Camerota speaks to Kordel Davis, a brother who witnessed the events of that night.  She also speaks with James Vivenzio, a former fraternity brother turned whistleblower, who describes the pledging process and what it’s like to be hazed.

With insight from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim, Deadly Haze delves into a fraternity system that has been called out for “rampant and pervasive” hazing in its Greek community. But the fraternity hazing crisis stretches far beyond Penn State.

Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country. Some studies find that Greek Life comes with a 50% higher rate of sexual assault. Fraternity and sorority members also report excessive drinking four times higher than the average student. Despite those risks, young men still flock to fraternities. By all accounts, Greek life is as popular as ever – with more than 400,000 active fraternity members which is a 50% increase over the past decade.

As millions of young people make the monumental decision of which college they should attend, do they and their parents know enough about the perils of hazing at universities across the country?  Even with Timothy Piazza’s tragic, high profile case, dangerous fraternity behavior continues on campuses across the country leading to at least three more deaths in 2017.

Deadly Haze will also stream live for subscribers on Saturday, April 14th via CNNgo (at and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The documentary will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

About CNN Special Report CNN Special Report is the award-winning, in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events and the powerful human-interest stories that reflect our times.

Kordel Davis Speaks out Against Hazing Culture

If you see something, you shouldn’t be afraid to say something.

A client of ours, Kordel Davis, conveyed this message at University of Missouri’s No Hazing event as he spoke  about the dangers of hazing culture through his own experience. In February 2017 Davis knew something was wrong when his friend, pledge Timothy Piazza, sustained injuries after forced binge drinking at the Beta Theta Pi fratenity at Pennsylvania State University, but fraternity brothers prevented Davis from getting help because they feared the consequences to their fraternity. Piazza’s life was lost as a result. Kathryn Palmer writes for the Missourian:

Davis told his story to about 50 MU fraternity members and Greek life alumni on Saturday in a Neff Hall auditorium and offered suggestions for how universities can better prevent hazing on campus.

“Pledging can be done in a not so dangerous way. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like now, but the crazy drinking is not really necessary,” said Davis, who revealed that the fraternity brothers also forced him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol during his initiation.

Strengthening university policies and raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol abuse were a couple of his suggestions.

Sigma Chi faculty adviser and law professor Ben Trachtenberg invited Davis to speak after reading about the investigation into Piazza’s death in The Atlantic last November.

“Anyone who reads about an event like that in Greek life and says, ‘That could never happen in my frat,’ isn’t paying attention,” Trachtenberg said.

Davis, who has since transferred to Rutgers University in New Jersey, went into gruesome detail about the night of Piazza’s death.

The 19-year-old Penn State sophomore sustained a brutal fall after a night of forced binge drinking at the fraternity house. Although he had visible bruising from internal bleeding, the fraternity brothers waited over 12 hours before seeking help. In that time, Davis came to the house and urged his fellow fraternity members to call 911. In response, they threw Davis against a wall. Fraternity officers warned him not to call for help because they were afraid of being punished.

Davis said his gut told him that something larger was afflicting Piazza, who was indeed suffering from a ruptured spleen, but that other members’ cavalier attitudes made him second-guess himself.

“If I could go back, I would have called 911 myself, but that would have meant going above my vice president and president,” Davis said. “I would have gone above them.”

Davis said the biggest problem with hazing culture is the way it discourages intervention in dangerous situations like Piazza’s. He suggested an amnesty policy could encourage more people to seek help without fear of repercussions.

Davis’ visit to MU was timely, as the campus has also found itself at the center of numerous hazing-related scandals and investigations over the past several years.

Between 2014 and 2016 almost half of MU’s fraternities were placed on probation and three chapters suspended, in the wake of a variety of hazing and assault allegations.

Tina Bloom, a professor at the MU School of Nursing whose research focuses on violence prevention, spoke alongside Davis.

“Knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning, awareness and equipping people with tools on how to help is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” Bloom said. “It is incumbent on all of us to realize this happens at all levels, because policy changes just directed at sororities and fraternities won’t solve the problem.”

Click here for related content.

Death of Mitchell Hoenig, a Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Member

A University of Minnesota Student, Mitchell Hoenig, died due to excessive drinking.

Mitchell Hoenig, a 20-year old UMN student, member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and a College of Biological Sciences Dean’s List honoree, lost his life after a night of partying. He was hospitalized Friday, February 23, and unfortunately passed away two days later due to alcohol poisoning. Minnesota Daily reports:


Hoenig attended two Gamma Phi Beta events (Feb. 24) — a pre-party and a date party — the Thursday night before his cardiac arrest, and the Minnesota Daily could not confirm what he did after the two events. He was drinking at the pre-party, one Gamma Phi member said, along with other minors, according to two members and a date party attendee. Hoenig also had access to alcohol at the date party, according to photos and a Gamma Phi member, but it’s unclear if he drank there.

An ambulance called to The Marshall apartment building in Dinkytown, 515 14th Ave. SE, at 5:18 a.m. transported Hoenig to the Hennepin County Medical Center. The Minnesota Daily was unable to confirm Hoenig’s activities between the Greek events and ambulance call.

He was on life support for the next two days and was pronounced dead on Feb. 25 at 12:41 p.m.

The University of Minnesota Police Department and Minneapolis Police Department had no reports on file related to Hoenig’s death. The University is not investigating the incident.

“Our son Mitchell enjoyed life [to] its fullest. Unfortunately, excess alcohol resulted in his death. While this does not in any way define our son, our hope is that this incident reminds everyone to look out for one another,” Hoenig’s parents, Aaron Hoenig and Ann Hoenig, wrote in a February Facebook post sent to the Minnesota Daily by a University spokesperson.

Hoenig’s parents opposed the publication of this story in conversations with the Minnesota Daily.

“Mitchell was a valued member of our community and we join his family in continuing to mourn his loss. It is disappointing that the Minnesota Daily is choosing to publish a story against the wishes of the Hoenig family, who we continue to support and work with as they grieve,” Maggie Towle, the University interim vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, said in an emailed statement through a University spokesperson.

‘An awesome friend’

More than 100 of Hoenig’s friends, family and classmates attended his memorial at Coffman Union on Feb. 28.

Hoenig was described as outgoing, charismatic and funny at the memorial. He quickly made friends inside and outside of his fraternity after moving nearly 1,000 miles from Texas to Minnesota.

“He was an awesome friend, as evidenced by the number of friends showing up here tonight,” Dan Olson, Hoenig’s uncle, said at the memorial. “It’s a real tribute to his friendship knowing that Mitchell lived in Minnesota for less than two and a half years and can fill a room this size, while hundreds more are watching online.”

Hoenig was an organ donor, and at the end of the memorial, his sister read out loud who received his organs. A 67-year-old man received his heart, a 66-year-old man received his lungs, a 63-year-old man received his liver, a 44-year-old man received his pancreas and one of his kidneys and an 11-year-old girl received his other kidney.

Click here to access the full article.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mitchell Hoenig.

Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza – Serious Charges Dropped

A Judge has Dismissed Serious Charges against defendants for the Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza not once, but twice.

For the second time, Pennsylvania Judge, Allen Sinclair, has tossed out the most serious allegations against 11 Pennsylvania State University fraternity brothers who were arrested following the hazing death of Timothy Piazza last year. This sends a dangerous message to fraternities across the nation that life threatening hazing practices resulting in death and injury will be taken lightly in court. PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing, has released the following statement regarding the dropped allegations against the defendants for the hazing death of Timothy Piazza:

Friday, March 30, 2018: We, the members of Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH), want to convey in the strongest possible terms our outrage and profound disappointment in the ruling issued by Pennsylvania Magistrate Allen Sinclair in the hazing death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza.

The most serious charges against the defendants in Tim’s case were dismissed not once, but twice! That sends exactly the wrong message to students who are a part of Greek Life: That they may engage in any criminal or dangerous behavior, including hazing; and will face little consequences for their actions. What a missed opportunity!

To deter criminal behavior of fraternity members, as well as those belonging to other campus-based groups like band, athletics and the military from engaging in reckless activity that can result in sexual assaults, serious physical and emotional harm, and in the worst case, death, the punishment needs to fit the crime. We ask the magistrate, what is the value of a life? What was the value of Timothy Piazza’s life? What is the value of the life of any young person in America and what should the punishment be when that life is recklessly stolen?

After reviewing a treasure trove of video and cell phone evidence revealing exactly what happened to Tim and the real-time response from his “so-called” Beta Theta Pi brothers, two seasoned prosecutors –one county, one state— determined that the defendants should be charged with very serious crimes that could result in lengthy prison sentences if they were convicted. But, perhaps in the most disturbing chapter in this tragic tale is that Magistrate Sinclair, made the unilateral decision to dismiss those most serious charges. Judge Sinclair may not realize it, but his ruling will make it more dangerous for students involved in Greek life and puts at greater risk any student on any campus in America, who makes the fateful decision to attend a Greek event. This ruling is a nod and a wink to all frat boys that they will not be held accountable for their actions, even if someone dies!

PUSH was created to end these types of injustices, and as the nation’s consciousness is focused on keeping our children safe, we will unite in strength with other parents to bring needed change and protect our kids.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law send our sincere condolences to family and friends seeking justice for the loss of Timothy Piazza. Our firm has defended families and victims affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury for over 20 years. We continue to ensure fraternities and fraternity brothers are held fully accountable for their misconduct.

Former Boss of Larry Nassar, William Strampel, Charged

Larry Nassar’s former boss at Michigan State University used his power to sexually assault, harass, and solicit nude photos from female students, according to a criminal complaint.

William Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for his own actions as dean from 2002 to 2018, according to court documents.

The 70-year-old also faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty related to his failure to properly oversee Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who admitted to sexually abusing young girls for decades, court documents state.

The criminal complaint details statements from four female students who described disturbing instances of Strampel’s abuse of power as dean. According to the document, Strampel asked for nude photos and sexual favors, he groped women’s buttocks at official events, and demeaned the way they dressed.

The charges came as part of Michigan special prosecutor William Forsyth’s investigation into how Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, was able to abuse more than 200 young girls and women over more than two decades.

The complaint also states that Strampel improperly allowed Nassar to continue treating patients before a Title IX investigation into his sexual misconduct was complete. In addition, Strampel failed to enforce protocols set up to prevent future issues with Nassar, such as requiring him to wear gloves during examinations, the complaint states.
MSU moved in early February to revoke Strampel’s tenure. He stepped down from the dean position in December, citing health problems.

Access the full report here.


Michigan State’s Unclear Title IX Program

Misinformation has led to a disconnect at Michigan State university regarding key concepts of Their Title IX programs.

Recent Title IX reports conducted by Hush Blackwell have shown MSU is lagging to create strong awareness of campus sexual assault education and prevention. Many students at the university are uninformed of their rights and available resources if they are, or have been, sexually assaulted. mLive’s Brian McVicar writes:

“Michigan State has some work ahead of it,” said Julie Miceli, a partner at Husch Blackwell who focuses on higher education. “It has certainly made some improvements. The staff that are engaged in this work did not find any of our findings … to be of surprise.”

The report is Husch Blackwell’s second examination of MSU’s policies and programs surrounding Title IX, the federal gender anti-discrimination law that covers how educational institutions receiving federal funds must respond to reports of sexual assault.

It focused on the effectiveness of sexual assault education and prevention programs, support services and resources offered on campus, and outreach efforts tied to those programs. Researchers spoke with students, faculty and staff about their awareness and knowledge of the programs.

On Tuesday afternoon, Interim President John Engler told MSU’s Faculty Senate that he’s working to address the findings.

“We’re not only trying to fix resources that are necessary, because in some cases there are resources that aren’t there, but we’re also trying to fix how we communicate and educate and inform,” he said.

In its report, Husch Blackwell says that many participants in campus discussion groups were “unaware of, or misinformed about, key concepts relating to MSU’s Title IX program.” Student participants, for example, were familiar with the definition of sexual consent, but were “unaware of resources available to survivors of sexual misconduct and to those accused of sexual misconduct.”

At another point, the report says: “Overall, a majority of discussion group participants seem to be lacking even basic awareness about other Title IX-related support services and resources provided by MSU.”

Miceli, of Husch Blackwell, said perception and awareness of university programs is important.

“Their perception I think is actually very relevant to that question about effectiveness,” she said. ‘If they are unaware of the policy, if they are unaware of the expectations of the university with respect to their own conduct and the process by which policy violations could be looked at, the training in particular would not be effective.”

Engler said the university expects to make several changes “very quickly” based upon the Hush Blackwell report, though he did not detail specifics.

Read the full article here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law hope Michigan State University and other universities across the country are able to expedite the improvement of their Title IX programs and procedures.

March for Our Lives Event This Saturday Coincides with 20th Anniversary of Jonesboro School Shooting

Thousands will come together across the country to protest gun violence on the 20th anniversary of one of the most deadly school shootings of its time.

Tragedy struck nearly 20 years ago in Jonesboro, AR when two students pulled a fire alarm. The duo began to open fire as their fellow classmates and teachers attempted to safely exit the building. The school shooting was fatal for one teacher, Shannon Wright, and four students. In addition, 10 were injured during the attack. Meghan Keneally interviews Mitch Wright, husband of the late Mrs. Wright, and recounts the tragedy for ABC News:

For Mitch Wright, whose wife was the middle school teacher shot to death at the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, March 24, 1998, the timing of the march is not so much a coincidence as an act of God, he says.

The March date caught him off guard, Wright told ABC News, because “no one really outside our area really realizes what the 24th represents.”

“The history behind these in the last 20 years, it’s kind of like this: You get a lot of coverage, you get a lot of lawmakers who are typically really adamant about making changes, making promises, and they typically jump ship kind of quick, as soon as the NRA starts pulling their strings,” Wright, 52, said.

“The shooting in Florida really opened the floodgates a whole lot quicker than they normally do. It’s been real tough this week. You just get through it… It’s like a continuous stress ball that you don’t want anyone to ever have to feel,” he said.

Wright is “hopeful” about the new wave of activism that the Parkland students are leading, he said, adding that he’s happy about the March for Our Lives events, especially the one set to take over Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

“If I could pick somewhere to go [on the anniversary], I would love to go and witness that. I would love to go to D.C. and see those kids march. It would be nice,” he said.

“It boils down to this: You just don’t want another family to go through this. It doesn’t matter what anniversary it is,” Wright said. “They’re still gone and it still hurts.”

Read the full story here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law extend sincere condolences to students and families affected by school shoootings, and support those choosing to march this Saturday.  Our lawyers negotiated the historic settlements for the wrongful deaths and injured survivors of the Virginia Tech Massacre, which valued in excess of $11 Million.  The settlements established a foundation in their honor that continues to advocate for safe schools and gun control, which we continue to represent.

Click here for related content.

Fraternities and Gangs, What’s the Difference?

Fraternities and Gangs are “both blamed for predisposing their members to violent acts, but they’ve sparked radically different public-policy responses.”

Fraternities can be dangerous places due to the abuse of alcohol, hazing, and sexual/non-sexual violence. Members of gangs are often associated with similar circumstances, and, when prosecuted, are held responsible for violent acts and misconduct. However, most fraternities have access to legal blankets, composed of rich families, lawyers, and lack of proper legislation, that shield them from legal responsibility. Ibram X. Kendi of The Atlantic writes:

Consider this series of contrasts: toughness toward savage gang boys versus softness toward immature frat men. Worries about destroying the lives of drunk 20-year-olds accused of violence versus hardly caring about destroying the lives of high 16-year-olds accused of violence. Attacking gangs wielding the faces of their victims versus attacking and defacing the victims of fraternities. Defending death sentences for violent gang boys versus defending the life of privileged denial for violent frat men.

This double standard is both racist and elitist. After all, the stereotypical gang boy is poor and non-white. The stereotypical frat man is elite and white. And the double standard is sexist, as well. A blinding toxicity of masculinity prevents some Americans from truly caring about the typical victim of sexual assault on college campuses in the way they care about the victim of urban violence.


Three out of four major police departments already had new gang intelligence units (GIUs) by 1993. “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets,” President Bill Clinton said as he signed the multi-billion dollar Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in American history, the next year.

Fraternities and sexual violence have taken over our colleges. And yet, has Congress ever seriously considered steering billions to thwart sexual violence, to clean up the toxic masculinity poisoning fraternities and campus life?

America is stuck at the intersection of racism, sexism, and elitism as gangs and fraternities batter American bodies. How Americans carry on treating the violent and impoverished 16-year-old Latino gang member versus how Americans carry on treating the violent and affluent 21-year-old white fraternity brother—the split screen—should show us all about the self-destructive essence of American bigotry.

Read the full essay here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law, a team of lawyers experienced in defending victims and families affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury, agree that fraternities must be held accountable for their misconduct.