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Chatterbox: The unchecked college threat

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Last week we talked about the national toll guns are taking on America.

The crimes of mass shootings are random, immediate and unpredictable. Still, legislation would help. Today, we talk about crimes, long in the tooth, easier to locate before they happen and far easier to legislate, with, again, some courage – which we seem to be short on in our governing body in America these days.

We have all heard horror stories – for decades – coming off college campuses across the nation about kids being assaulted, injured, debilitated or killed during college hazings. Very much like critical situations around our country, most conspicuously the gun violence, nothing gets done. There’s an occasional slap on the wrist here, possibly an expulsion, a light jail sentence in the rarest of occasions, but a preemptive cure goes unimposed.

Chatterbox once did a column on the frontal lobes of human brains, what they mean, when they close, and what their closing indicates. They play a key role in the maturation process, and they are where we make our decisions. The reason why car surfing sounds like merely some risky fun at 17 and great idiocy at 25 isn’t that we lose our courage or daring, it’s because we have gained balance and sense; our frontal lobes closed and suddenly we are real people.

Very unfortunately, college comes before this fabulous closure happens. That is why hazing becomes deadly. Let’s take the case of a young man whose story I first noticed while catching up on some recent news. Well-disclosed on multiple news media, this particular report was on nbcnews.com. In October of 2021, a healthy young man with his whole life in front of him was left blind, mute and in a wheelchair as a result of alcohol poisoning during a hazing incident of Phi Gamma Delta on the campus of the University of Missouri.

Hazing and its victims are numerous as this practice has continued for decades. One can only wonder how colleges that manage to keep track of curriculum, teaching staff, building maintenance, donations, finances, incoming funds, outgoing expenses and countless other necessities, particulars and statistics, can’t seem to get a grip on this singular source of violence resulting in so many deaths and injuries. It could be said that, they intentionally turn a half-blind eye to it because rushing, pledging and frats are an enormous draw to some potential students.

In this particular instance, there is one resolved lawsuit and an ongoing case against the students who were in charge of “taking care” of the victim, Daniel Santulli. They actually abandoned Santulli for over an hour before trying to get him to a hospital. Details are numerous as to what young Santulli endured and what the college ignored in the weeks leading up to the incident. It’s not just sad that colleges don’t eliminate these hazings, but that they are legally allowed to repeatedly ignore them.

Many years ago, I cried when I saw an air force “hazing” of sorts via a secret tape gone public. One man who had endured it actually defended it. He called it a bonding ceremony, but the responses of others featured in the tape make quite a different point. We just have to wonder: if young, bright, militarily disciplined men can participate in such an event, what can we expect from a kid on his own for the first time and trying to fit in? Truly, it’s up to the adults in charge to govern these situations.

For parents, the thought of anyone doing something painful, humiliating (despite what the perpetrators call it), dangerous and inhumane to anyone’s beloved child is highly repugnant. To a rushing pledge at college, whose frontal lobes haven’t closed, all of this may seem more macho than criminal and less potentially debilitating or deadly than it is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop hazing from eradicating the promising future of its young victims.

It is, therefore, clearly up to those in charge, whose lobes have closed, who are assumed to be protecting their enrolled students’ health, safety and lives rather than incoming tuition checks. It is they who must bring, otherwise be forced to bring, an end to these practices. College authorities must muster the gumption and fortitude required to dispense with all hazings … possibly end the Greek system completely.

According to a recent article, the executive director of Phi Gamma Delta’s International Fraternity offered ... “thoughts and prayers ... to the Santulli family.” Who among us isn’t sick of that cliché?

How about laws and punishment instead?


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