Blog : Fraternities

“Experts call such victim-blaming ‘tortured rationalizations.'”

See the source imageA California father believes his 18-year-old son’s alcohol-related death was the result of a fraternity hazing ritual. The Orange County coroner’s office said Monday, Noah Domingo died from accidental alcohol poisoning.

Noah’s blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit, reports CBS News’ Jamie Yuccas. The UC Irvine freshman was found unresponsive after a party in January. His father said Noah was taking part in a dangerous and longstanding fraternity ritual. His death has already prompted Sigma Alpha Epsilon to close its chapter at UC Irvine indefinitely.

In a statement to CBS News, Dale Domingo said, “We have discovered the horrifying truth about fraternity hazing.” He contends the fraternity was conducting its “big brother night” ritual where “Noah was compelled to guzzle a so-called ‘family drink’ to become part of his big brother’s family.” He said, “It is why fraternities openly refer to this type of ritual as being one of the ‘deadly nights.'”

Authorities said Domingo died at about 3:30 in the morning, but the initial 911 call was some six hours later. The person who called 911 told the operator “he just drank, he just drank too much.”

Disputing the account in the 911 call, Noah’s father said his son did not just drink too much. He said experts call such victim-blaming “tortured rationalizations.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances leading to Domingo’s death and have not confirmed that hazing played a role.
In a statement, the university offered its “deepest sympathies to the Domingo family” and said “his death brings an urgent focus on alcohol and substance abuse.”

The focus on fraternity hazing has intensified in recent years with the deaths of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza and Florida State University fraternity member Andrew Coffey.

Just like other families impacted by college drinking deaths, Noah’s father said he will honor his son by doing everything he can to end hazing by fraternities and their members.

CBS News reached out to Sigma Alpha Epsilon regarding the confirmation of Domingo’s cause of death, but have not heard back.

©  2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. See the Full Report Here.

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Sigma Alpha Epsilon: Years of Misconduct and Hazing

Image result for SAE frat logo

Alcohol-related deaths at Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chapters across the country have been going on for years. 

Incidents include, but unfortunately, not limited to:

  • The 2006 alleged alcohol-related hazing death of University of Texas freshman & SAE pledge, Tyler Cross, who fell to his death from the fifth-floor balcony of his off-campus dorm. Allegedly, in the days before Tyler’s death, he was subjected to hazing rituals that included beatings, forced consumption of alcohol and sleep deprivation.
  • The 2008 alcohol poisoning death of Cal Poly freshman and pledge, Carson Starkey, who died only hours after attending a “brown bag” event. Allegedly, when Carson passed out, fraternity members drove him to the hospital but turned around for fear of being arrested. Brothers then placed Carson on a mattress at the house, where he died. Police officials said that the death was the result of the crime of hazing while Carson was being initiated into Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Attorney Douglas Fierberg was honored to represent The Starkeys not only in their civil lawsuit but also in their pursuit to bring attention to the dangers of hazing and prevent other families from suffering as they did.
  • The 2009 alcohol poisoning death of University of Kansas freshman Jason Wren, who was found dead in his bed at the SAE house after a night of alleged binge drinking. Jason had only been with the fraternity for one week.
  • The 2011 hazing death of Cornell University student, George Desdunes, who was allegedly kidnapped and bound at his wrists and ankles with zip ties by SAE pledges as part of a longstanding fraternity ritual and compelled to consume alcohol until he lost consciousness. Instead of medical treatment,  George was taken to the fraternity house and placed on a couch where he was left to die. He was found later that morning by Cornell personnel, with zip ties still around his wrists and ankles. Attorney Douglas Fierberg was honored to represent George’s Mother, Marie Lourdes André, both in her civil lawsuit and in her efforts to obtain justice for George’s death by changing the way Cornell University handles claims of hazing. 

This conduct should not, and will not, be tolerated.

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group seek justice for victims of fraternity hazing and wrongful death by holding fraternities, fraternity chapters, fraternity members and schools accountable for their actions.  Our work continues, on behalf and in honor of the first family we represented (circa 1993) and for every one thereafter. We know this to be true.

 

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UC Irvine Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapter Suspended After Member Dies

Noah Domingo

After ONLY 1 WEEK of being back to classes, UC Irvine Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is Suspended as Police Investigate Death of 18-Year-Old Student.

Freshman Noah Domingo was found Saturday near the University of California, Irvine in a home off-campus. Irvine police received a call around 9:40 a.m. that Domingo was unresponsive and found him dead in a bed at the home, said Kim Mohr, a police spokeswoman.

Orange County coroner’s officials said Domingo died six hours earlier. The cause of his death is under investigation.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the same fraternity Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey, who died from acute alcohol poisoning in a hazing ritual, was pledging in December 2008.

The entire staff at School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group extend our sincere condolences to the family of Noah Domingo.

 

 

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Miami University of Ohio Changes Their Fraternity Guidelines

Miami University of Ohio fraternity and sorority members recently received a message addressing changes and recommendations that will be implemented in their community over the next year. These changes are meant to set a new standard for fraternities – one that focuses on brotherhood, leadership, and accountability.

It is no secret that in the last several years, their fraternity community has come under scrutiny for unhealthy decision making – some of which led to suspensions of organizations. In October 2016, attorney Doug Fierberg presented at the Miami OH campus: Campus Sexual Violence: Student Rights, University Responsibilities and Legal Liability in the Hunting Ground confronting these issues.

We here at School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group are happy to see flagged issues being undertaken with mature management.

Below is the text from the email that Greek students received.

Dear Members of the Miami University Fraternity & Sorority Community:

Miami has long been a leader in the fraternal movement. We have consistently talked about creating a “model Greek community” at Miami – one where students live their values, bring out the best in each other, hold one another accountable, and are role models on campus and across the country.

As we look to the future, we also must look at our past. There is no denying the fact that systemic issues in our community have led to concerning health and safety risks to students – in particular to the newest members of our Interfraternity Council community.

Over the course of the next year, you will see specific changes to fraternity life here at Miami. These changes were developed by a diverse team of committed fraternity stakeholders – students, chapter advisors, alumni, headquarters partners, housing corporation board officers, and staff. The committee evaluated data, reports, and other university standards to determine what would help promote safety and advance the fraternal experience at Miami. It was not an easy task, and the challenges posed to the committee were great, however, we firmly believe these changes will strengthen principles and limit risk among our fraternity chapters.

A few major changes that you will see include:

*             In spring semester 2019 and going forward, fraternity new members will need to complete online training courses on leadership and accountability.

*             The new member period will be changed to four weeks rather than eight.

*             In the recruitment period of spring 2020, all new members will be required to have a GPA of at least 2.75 (up from 2.5) to join a fraternity.

*             Live-in house directors will be required for fraternities to receive the second year exemption.

While we know that policies alone cannot change a culture, the changes are expected to:

*             Foster a culture that develops and rewards student leadership through participation in a fraternity.

*             Focus on academic excellence and student success.

*             Address the nationwide challenges of hazing, high-risk alcohol, and drug use while holding students and chapters accountable for standards.

Please know we are invested in navigating these changes and working together to create a sustainable community that upholds the Love & Honor of Miami. Communication and transparency will be consistent and necessary as we move forward.

Thank you for your dedication and investment in making your community one we can all be proud of.

The Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life 

Read More Here

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What is the future of fraternities on college campuses?

By: James Patterson | Education Dive | November 13, 2018

After four student deaths in 2017 and pressure from parents, colleges are cracking down — but just how far they’ll go is still to be determined.

E. Gordon Gee, the professorial president of West Virginia University who favors bow ties and once described himself as “quirky as hell,” pauses for a moment and sighs when asked whether he thinks it’s possible to improve the fractured relationship between fraternities and colleges across the country.

Although he may seem like their antithesis, and his response to their misbehavior on his campus has been by most accounts no-nonsense, he says he’s optimistic.

“They are going to continue to play a role, and it could be a positive one. So rather than ignore them and put them aside, let’s find a way to make them cheerful, friendly and engaged members of the university community,” says Gee, who recently banned five fraternities for 10 or more years after they refused to obey new rules he implemented following reports of hazing and drug and alcohol abuse.

He’s not the only college leader of late to crack down on fraternities for misconduct. This fall, the University of Iowa and Monmouth Universitysuspended theirs, and other institutions such as the University of NebraskaNorthwestern University, the University of Arizona and the University of Connecticut have taken similar actions in recent years.

Disparate views about the future of fraternities have included suggestions they be disbanded or even unbridled and self-governed. Yet Gee and others seem adamant that fraternities have a place in higher education, though they agree a solution to the present issues is needed now. The most recent catalyst: four student deaths as a result of hazing activity in 2017 alone. The spate followed a near half-century period during which at least one hazing death was recorded per year, according to Franklin College Professor Hank Nuwer, who has gained attention for his meticulous tracking of incidents.

College leaders and others say those solutions include stricter limits for fraternities around pledging and alcohol use, higher levels of direct supervision, more stringent state laws and better tactics for getting fraternities to self-police, the latter led more forcefully by their national and campus organizations.

But fraternities’ long histories at their universities and deep ties within alumni networks makes cracking down a major challenge.

A SHIFTING TIDE

The problem, says Nicholas Syrett, a professor at the University of Kansas and author of “The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities,” stems from the deeply rooted traditions intrinsic to fraternities and the heavy doses of male bonding that go along with them.

“Many young men arrive on campus very much hoping that their college experience will involve excessive drinking at fraternity parties. They want what they think of as the classic fraternity experience, complete with parties, pledging and hazing,” Syrett says. “The men who most fit that ideal even before getting to college join fraternities and they encourage one another to continue the tradition. It’s a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Under that broader umbrella, loose-knit “rogue” groups that “act with impunity” challenge colleges and universities that often feel they don’t have sufficient tools to monitor or oversee them, says Paul Zingg, former president of California State University, Chico, where the hazing death of 21-year-old Matthew Carrington in 2005 prompted the formation of the nonprofit Anti-Hazing Awareness (AHA!) Movement, founded by Carrington’s mother Debbie Smith.

“Greek misbehavior takes place on most campuses,” Zingg says. Efforts such as that by AHA!, which Zingg supports, hope to change that. Its work resulted in the passage of Matt’s Law in California, which allows for felony prosecutions and broader law enforcement powers for hazing.      

Smith isn’t the only parent pushing back, and that pressure is spurring colleges and universities to step up. Following Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza’s death in 2017 as a result of injuries sustained during a night of drinking at a fraternity event, the university became a center of activity related to fraternity safety.

Piazza’s parents were active in pushing for greater oversight of fraternities, and Penn State President Eric Barron clamped down the groups on his campus and began collaborating with the presidents of other universities where hazing-related deaths had occurred recently to find solutions.

Their efforts were also critical to recently passed legislation in Pennsylvania, which strengthens penalties for hazing and makes it a felony if it results in serious injury or death. Pennsylvania is the 12th state with such a law on its books. The bill was promoted by an energetic, newly formed coalition of affected parents and fraternities and anti-hazing groups, which will soon release a set of proposed state laws they intend to advance nationwide. As with Matt’s Law, the one in Pennsylvania is named after Piazza.

RAISING ACCOUNTABILITY ON CAMPUS

In addition to changing the law, affected colleges, families and other groups are looking within the institution. Some colleges have established firm rules about alcohol consumption on campus, have moved troublesome freshman pledge activities to the spring or eliminated them entirely, and more quickly suspend offending fraternities, says John Hechinger, a senior editor at Bloomberg News and author of the book “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,” which looks at fraternity culture and their future on campuses. Others require members meet certain academic performance or community service requirements.

“Information travels faster, the events are better documented and it’s harder for them to be swept under the rug,” Hechinger says. “Colleges have had to respond.”

This past April, Barron co-led a meeting of more than 30 college officials to examine challenges, complications and ways to collaborate on new approaches. One of those approaches is a national scorecard, which Penn State developed for its campus to keep track of outcomes for fraternities such as GPA, community service hours and violations pertaining to hazing, alcohol or sexual assault.

“We now have inserted ourselves into the lives of these students in ways never done at Penn State, and rarely, if ever, done in any large public university,” says Damon Sims, the university’s vice president for student affairs. He says Penn State staff is now on-hand at social activities and handles the discipline of members who violate behavior policies.

“They are going to continue to play a role, and it could be a positive one. So rather than ignore them and put them aside, let’s find a way to make them cheerful, friendly and engaged members of the university community.” – E. Gordon Gee, President, West Virginia University

Scorecards or publication of fraternity records on alcohol-related hospitalizations could be powerful tools for colleges, Hechinger says, along with potentially “taxing” participants at campus events where alcohol is served or requiring parents to buy large liability insurance policies so they have a financial incentive to reduce risky behavior.

Douglas Fierberg, an attorney representing families in fraternity misconduct cases, says to control behavior universities must be more transparent about fraternity problems. He says even heralded disclosure efforts like Penn State’s are too vague and that universities too often protect the groups. He also says the common chapter self-management model should be replaced with university oversight, pledging should be banned and alcohol consumption should be prohibited without proper adult supervision.

“Fraternities are knowingly isolated from meaningful adult management and supervision and are therefore unreasonably dangerous,” he says.

IS BETTER OVERSIGHT POSSIBLE?

College leaders have successful lessons from the past to call upon. Hechinger notes in his book that soon after former University of Rhode Island President David Carothers was hired in 1991 he found the university had gained an unwanted reputation for its social life. Kegs were seen at commencement, the institution’s initials URI became synonymous with “you are high,” and many students were regularly hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.

Carothers took what Hechinger says proved to be effective action: banning alcohol from all university-sponsored social events on campus, suspending students for two semesters if they violated the policy and kicking out repeatedly offending fraternities — even bulldozing some houses or taking them over as administrative buildings. The action, Hechinger wrote, “all but eliminated the kind of tragic alcohol-related deaths that had been a regular occurrence,” improved behavior generally and drew more successful students to the university.

It also didn’t result in the backlash that Carothers expected and many administrators fear when they restrict fraternities, which are quick and aggressive in their own defense and often have powerful support.

“Colleges have shown a lot more backbone and shut down chapters, and parents have put pressure on colleges and states to do something, but without powerful and sustained pressure, some fraternities aren’t likely to change,” says Hechinger. He and others note that fraternity members are often held up as leaders on campus, their presence is a recruiting tool and they have strong connections to important donors and community leaders.

Zingg and others stress that fraternities’ leadership at the chapter and national levels should be held more accountable for members’ behavior and its consequences.

“Colleges have shown a lot more backbone and shut down chapters, and parents have put pressure on colleges and states to do something, but without powerful and sustained pressure, some fraternities aren’t likely to change.” – John Hechinger, Journalist and Author

Some have stepped up, establishing firm standards for their groups about consent, alcohol abuse and hazing. For example, the 66-member North-American Interfraternity Conference joined the coalition that is seeking tighter state laws on hazing and has banned hard liquor at the facilities of its participating fraternities beginning next fall. The move affects more than 6,100 chapters on 800 college campuses.

Hechinger’s book tracks several leaders who have against the odds sought to clean up their chapters. Gee says strong leaders and thoughtful university student affairs professionals were critical when he was at chancellor at Vanderbilt University from 2000 to 2007, where 35% of men were in fraternities in 2010 and where, he said, there was more cooperation between the university and Greek organizations.

Selecting the right people in those positions and training them on how to avoid problems is key, he says, particularly fraternity leaders. A clear institutional policy is critical, fraternities must be informed about it and have reasonable say in its formation, and the policy must be enforced.

“They have to step up and take responsibility for the behavior of their members, and they will,” Gee says. “They and their members have to be held accountable if they don’t.”

Correction: This article has been updated to correct that Timothy Piazza was a sophomore at Penn State.

View Article Here

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University of Iowa Fraternities Booted from Campus for Alcohol & Hazing Violations

Aimee Breaux, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Published 6:40 p.m. CT Dec. 13, 2018 | Updated 8:22 a.m. CT Dec. 14, 2018

Four fraternity chapters have been removed from the University of Iowa, following a two-month investigation spurred by multiple alcohol-related incidents, including one death. School officials announced the chapter removals during a news conference Thursday night.

Delta Chi, Sigma Nu, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the UI chapter of Kappa Sigma International Fraternity were banned from operating as student organizations at the University of Iowa.

The Kappa Sigma chapter, called the Beta-Rho chapter, was also removed from the national organization following allegations of hazing. University officials declined to elaborate on the hazing events that provoked the removal of Beta-Rho Thursday.

The news is the latest in a crackdown on drinking violations at University of Iowa fraternities. Fraternities have been banned from holding events with alcohol after a University of Iowa student died at an out-of-state fraternity formal in 2017.

Twelve chapters were temporarily suspended in September and October for violating that moratorium.

In issuing the suspensions, university officials cited complaints to police and complaints about tailgating events hosted by the fraternities during football seasons. According to notices sent to students,police reported concerns of overdoses and alcohol poisoning at the various tailgates. At some tailgates, Iowa City police reported criminalmischief, loud parties, beer cans being thrown and unconscious individuals.

Following the two-month investigation into the allegations, two fraternities, Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Chi, were cleared. According to officials, there was not a “preponderance of evidence to find the chapter responsible for allegations, including tailgates.”

Six other fraternities — Acacia, Beta Theta Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha, Pi Kappa Phi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Pi and Phi Delta Theta — were placed on probation following the initial investigation results. Phi Delta Theta was placed on deferred suspension.

The fraternities have until Jan. 11 to appeal the investigation findings.

Melissa Shivers, vice president for Student Life, said the timing of the news was not ideal, but university officials wanted to give students living in the fraternity residences time to make other living arrangements if needed.

Fraternity houses are not operated by the university.

In the midst of the investigation and subsequent punishment, students and faculty have been working on a “Strategic Plan” to improve fraternity and sorority life on campus, including improving “risk management, health and safety.” 

The plan will be announced no later than spring 2019. 

Princeton Review has considered UI to be one of the top 20 party schools in the U.S. Princeton Review considered UI the No.2 on that list in 2015. 

So what are your thoughts on this suspension? 

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Timothy Piazza’s Death was a ‘Turning Point’ for America’s Fraternities

By A. Chris Gajilan, CNN | 12/6/2018 (Updated 12/8/2018)

Inhumane, cruel and tragic: Those are some of the words that have been used to describe the 2017 death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

The 19-year-old died after consuming 18 drinks in 82 minutes and sustaining a traumatic brain injury during a campus fraternity’s hazing rituals, court records, and testimony show.

Now, nearly two years after Piazza’s passing, many say his death has led to key changes in state legislatures and in the college Greek life community.

“The Piazza case is really a turning point to the extent that people know that fraternity hazing is unacceptable,” said John Hechinger, author of “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities.”

Four families that lost their sons to fraternity hazing — including Timothy’s parents, Jim and Evelyn — began working in September with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. Together, those two groups represent more than 90 fraternities and sororities in the United States.

The parents and the Greek life organizations have formed an anti-hazing coalition and now share a common goal: to pass legislation that would increase criminal penalties for hazing, and to increase education and awareness on college campuses.

“While we may seem like strange bedfellows, we all want the same thing: to end hazing so other parents don’t have to experience what we have,” Jim Piazza said.

So far, the Piazzas have spoken at more than a dozen campuses, directly addressing thousands of students and fraternity and sorority leaders.

“It makes more sense to work with them and have the opportunity to speak to fraternities and sororities and schools … and stop hazing in its tracks by the people who are perpetrating it,” Evelyn Piazza said. “Why not stop it before it even starts?”

Read more: Greek life more popular than ever, despite recent controversy and deaths

Rich Braham is another parent who’s traveled to colleges and universities across the country to support the two-fold mission of education and changing laws.

Braham’s 18-year-old son, Marquise, committed suicide in 2014, and the family believes it was because of alleged hazing while at Penn State Altoona. The case never resulted in criminal charges; the Braham family has filed a civil lawsuit against Penn State, two of its employees, the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and some of its members.

Referring to the case of Timothy Piazza, Braham vividly recalls that the fraternity’s members waited more than 12 hours to call 911 after Timothy fell down a flight of stairs.

“Letting him suffer the way he suffered was just so atrocious,” Braham said. “Tim’s death was a galvanizing point. … It was like, ‘enough.'”

On the campuses he visits, Braham wants to make it clear that these incidents can happen to anyone — and that there will be consequences.

“There was nothing special or unique about our kids. It was Russian roulette,” Braham said. “We want these kids to know that it could be any one of them who dies from hazing. Then, if you don’t hear the message, we’ll lock you up! If you don’t listen, there’s a penalty. It could ruin your lives and future.”

Read more: Why college students subject themselves to abusive hazing

This new coalition of parents harks back to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaign of the 1980s, said John Hechinger, who has reported on fraternities and education for years. When Candace Lightner started MADD in May 1980, four days after her daughter was killed by a drunken driver, public health professionals considered drunken driving to be the No. 1 killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. (The leading cause of death in 2016 for that age group was accidental injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

MADD’s efforts helped reduce the number of drunken driving fatalities and change public perception of driving while intoxicated. Now, the parents in the anti-hazing coalition want to achieve the same with respect to dangerous pledging rituals, and they’ve made some strides on campus and with policy.

In August, the North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 66 fraternities with more than 6,100 chapters across 800 campuses, declared a ban on hard alcohol beginning in September 2019. Under the policy, hard liquor — categorized as more than 15% alcohol by volume — will still be allowed if it is served by a licensed third-party vendor.

“Most of the deaths have involved hard alcohol; if a ban on hard alcohol can successfully be enforced, it could be a great thing,” Hechinger said. “My view is that any step is better than none.”

But Doug Fierberg, a school violence attorney who has represented many families who have lost their children to hazing, is more critical. “No new policy is ever going to be better than its means of implementation,” Fierberg said. “Virtually everything the fraternity industry does relies on 18- and 19-year-old men to implement it and make life and death decisions.”

In October, the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law was signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. It gives tougher penalties for hazing, making it a felony if it results in death or serious injury.

For its part, Penn State is also developing a national scorecard to provide public information on Greek letter organizations, including alcohol and hazing violations and chapter suspensions.

At the time the Piazza law was signed, a Penn State spokeswoman said it came “in conjunction with the aggressive safety and related measures the University has implemented, (and) is another step toward our mutual goal to increase student safety on campuses.”

“Penn State has been, and continues to be, committed to addressing this serious national issue,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in a statement.

With its anti-hazing law, Pennsylvania joined at least 12 other states with tougher anti-hazing laws. But the long-term impact of these efforts remains to be seen.

Since Piazza’s death, there have been other alcohol-related deaths at fraternities across the country. A number of headlines have emerged pointing to fraternities and local chapters being suspended for hazing and alcohol abuse. And even with all that, Greek life is still more popular than ever.

“On one side, we’re seeing all of this apparent reform action, (but) on the other, we’re seeing pushback from the student body,” said Hank Nuwer, author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives.”

“As much good work as the Piazzas are doing, not everybody is listening.”

Full Article Here

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Harvard Sanctions Suits Employ Unusual Legal Arguments

Lawsuit Press Conference 1Plaintiffs in twin suits are using creative legal strategies to argue against Harvard’s sanctions that prohibit members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions, varsity team athletic captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships.

The federal suit alleges that the sanctions amount to sex-based discrimination – violating Title IX and the United States Constitution.

Doug Fierberg, whose expertise was highlighted in The Harvard Crimson’s article stated, “It’s a novel way of twisting Title IX.”

“At the end of the day, the fraternities are going to lose – Just a question of timing.”

Check out The Harvard Crimson article here.

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HONORING THE LIFE OF GEORGE DESDUNES

 

On September 26, 2018, Cornell University permanently honored the life of George Desdunes by unveiling a plaque prominently placed at entrance of the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life.  This remembrance of George serves as a constant reminder to everyone involved in Greek affairs of the tragic death of George on February 25, 2011, as a result of hazing ritual by pledges and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Following her son’s death, Marie André created groundbreaking law in New York that clearly establishes the principle that national fraternities can be held civilly liable for the wrongdoing of their members.  SAE sought to dismiss the lawsuit against it and was unsuccessful.  The opinion by the Supreme Court of New York will certainly help other families hold national fraternities responsible for the death and injury caused by their failure to prevent their chapters and members from engaging in hazing, sexual violence, binge drinking, and other misconduct.

Marie was also the force behind fundamental changes in fraternity management by Cornell University.  In doing so, Cornell took the unprecedented steps to publish the history of hazing violations by fraternities and other campus groups, accurately warning parents and students in detail of the risks associated with fraternities.  (See hazing.cornell.edu)  This reporting by Cornell is one of the highest standards of transparency in the country.  It is also worth noting that Cornell’s former Senior Associate Dean of Students, Travis Apgar, whose office was responsible for fraternities at the time of George’s death and during a span of years when SAE was regularly hazing students and operating unsafely without consequence, is no longer employed by Cornell.

By holding accountable those responsible, both the individuals and the national fraternity, Marie obtained justice for the tragic and senseless death of her son, George.  In changing the way Cornell University handles claims of hazing, and by the placement of a plaque in George’s honor and remembrance, Marie has effectively prevented others from enduring the same hardships she will forever suffer. 

Our firm was honored to support her efforts.

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