Florida State University student Andrew Coffey died Nov. 3 after attending a party while pledging the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. FSU responded by suspending all Greek life indefinitely.
The university took action, more than thoughts and prayers, to protect its students from a fraternity culture that has proven deadly.
Yet universities tend to turn a blind eye to the dangerous activities and culture of recklessness that is rampant in fraternity life until something terrible happens. But that’s not good enough. It’s time to break that cycle.
The fraternity culture at the University of Miami is no exception. It is toxic and irresponsible. Maybe the university has a zero-hazing policy, but everyone knows hazing happens. We’re not in the business of publishing “fake news,” and the frat members and dean of students can denounce these as rumors instead of paying attention to our point, but this practice is common knowledge among students and needs to be discussed.
Hazing “games” pressure people to binge drink to extremes with schemes like two people being handcuffed together and, in order to get uncuffed, they need to finish a handle of hard liquor between the two of them. “Don’t f***k your brother” is a “game” that supposedly encourages “bonding” by forcing every pledge to drink as much as they can of a handle of liquor because the last person to get the handle has to finish it.
Sigma Alpha Mu makes a pledge swallow a fish every year, and Zeta Beta Tau forces one to get a tattoo. Phi Delta Theta forces pledges to endure grueling late night and early morning workouts – people have been so muddy at the end that they have to figure out how to walk home because they’d be fined for staining the seats in an Uber or Lyft. Other fraternities have required men to put Sriracha sauce in their urethras. And yet, everyone seems to shrug it off as boys being boys.
These hazing rituals may sound funny on the surface, but put yourself in this position: If you found yourself staring down at a glass of water with a goldfish swimming around, or nude with a bottle of Sriracha in hand, you wouldn’t be laughing. This is sadistic and traumatizing; humor is a weak defense.
Fraternities strip these men of their humanity and dignity through hazing, and then make them replace it with toxic masculinity – fighting each other or other intense physical exertion, reckless binge drinking, objectifying and using women as currency – all to attain the illusion of social prestige associated with being a “brother.”
Even if these hazing practices only amount to rumors, the fact that they are so widely circulated without any generalized outrage condones and perpetuates such behavior.
As long as the prestige of the fraternity system stays entrenched in higher education, this archaic, toxic culture retains all of its power. Unless there is a fundamental shift in the reason fraternities exist, there will continue to be unnecessary student deaths.
This is our moment of reckoning. How many more young men need to die in this atmosphere before higher education takes a stance against a culture whose only defense is a half-hearted cheer of “philanthropy.” Maybe we should list all the non-profits and other charities that manage to make an impact in the community without putting their members’ lives in peril.
Don’t pass over or forget the death of this student just because it wasn’t at our school. It could have easily been a UM student.
What is keeping a tragedy like this from happening here in the future? Is the “Canes Care for Canes” slogan enough? When it comes down to it, when frat members have someone they think is too intoxicated, are they going to call an ambulance if they know police and EMTs will snoop around the frat house? If hospitalizations were on the rise at frat tailgates before the recent restrictions, we’d be surprised if those same behaviors aren’t carrying over to the fraternity’s house parties.
It’s easy to say that if fraternities were suspended, some other groupthink, binge-drinking system would form in its place because this is just what Miami students do. This argument is largely a cop-out so fraternities can avoid taking responsibility for the role they play in endangering students – pledges especially – but it does bring attention to the larger issue of the pervasive blackout culture at our school.
Miami is known as a party city. Students here aren’t going out to a local bar like they are in the Midwest, they’re going to clubs. Accordingly, they’re not just drinking beers, they’re pre-gaming with shots of hard liquor and sugary drinks. There is a bar on campus, for crying out loud. There is also a level of wealth at this school that gives people access to alcohol and drugs in excess they just wouldn’t otherwise have.
We have alcohol education and programs, including those directed specifically at frats, but how do we deal with the fact that students might know how to drink safely but knowingly prefer to blackout and risk their lives instead? There is a culture of decadence that students here engage in without regard for their own safety. How do you fight that? It’s time to discuss and confront the root of the problem.
The Miami Hurricane will be reporting on the fraternity system. If you have seen or been affected by dangerous behaviors, now is the time to speak up. If you think these concerns are unfounded and our fraternities are exceptional, please share your story, too. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff editorials reflect the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.