As most of our readers are aware, last week an 18-year old freshman at LSU named Max Gruver died of alcohol poisoning in what is suspected to be a hazing incident. Gruver, from Roswell, Georgia, was a pledge of the LSU Phi Delta Theta chapter, and the coroner’s report indicated he had elevated levels of both alcohol and THC in his system.
Meaning that he’d smoked a large amount of weed, and part of the problem with smoking weed and drinking to excess is that one of the effects of marijuana in your system is it inhibits the impulse to vomit (that’s why people undergoing chemotherapy say marijuana is useful as a medicinal aid) – so if you drink too much and you’ve gotten too high on weed at the same time your body can’t expel the excess booze. It overwhelms your system and you die.
What we don’t know at this point, though clearly the Phi Delt members gave Gruver enough booze to kill him, is whether they forced him to drink it as part of a hazing ritual, or whether Gruver wasn’t encouraged or forced to imbibe so much and he just went overboard.
Either way it’s stupid to mix booze and weed in such a manner, and there are very likely going to be criminal charges against the Phi Delts, if for nothing other than illegal sale of alcohol for having supplied Gruver with the booze that killed him. Some 20 years ago a somewhat similar incident occurred when a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge named Ben Wynne was encouraged to drink to excess at an informal fraternity function at Murphy’s Bar just off campus, and when Wynne died the chapter was banned from campus, there were 86 charges filed of illegal sale of alcohol.
But the Wynne case was not found to have been as a result of hazing, and Gruver’s death is being investigated as a hazing incident. If Gruver is found to have died because he was encouraged to drink too much at a fraternity function – and he apparently died at the Phi Delt house – then it’s likely the members in charge will face charges of homicide by criminal negligence. If he was held down and they poured whiskey, or whatever, down his throat, then it’ll probably be manslaughter.
Either way, the Phi Delt chapter at LSU is finished. That’s a given, and there is no real argument for keeping it around. Even if the worst suspicions about Gruver’s death don’t materialize as fact, LSU can’t have a fraternity which is encouraging its pledges to get so high and drunk at the same time that their lives are in danger. That makes a mockery of the university’s educational mission, not to mention from a risk management standpoint it’s untenable.
Where the controversy starts, though, is what else LSU has done.
LSU President F. King Alexander announced late Thursday that all Greek activities at the school would be suspended pending a thorough investigation of the incident.
Officials couldn’t offer specifics, but said the involvement of alcohol was being investigated.
“We in the LSU community are grieving today,” Alexander said at a press conference Thursday. “The death of Maxwell Gruver was tragic and untimely. A young man’s life was cut short last night and we mourn the loss and the possible impact he may have had on our region and the world. Our deepest sympathies and prayers go to his family and his friends. There are allegations that Maxwell’s death, there are allegations that they were related to hazing, but I want to emphasize that this is an evolving situation. We are investigating this matter with the utmost seriousness. As we have continually warned over and over again, hazing is dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable and it will not be accepted at LSU, period.”
He went on, “Alcohol is indeed part of the allegations, but that’s part of the investigation.”
What it’s beginning to sound like is that an inquisition into the Greek system at LSU is about to commence. The LSU Reveille, whose editorial board is a relatively reliable organ spouting university president F. King Alexander’s line, had an editorial over the weekend supporting the suspension of Greek life on campus…
The death of any student on campus should merit a thorough investigation – particularly when that death might involve hazing – and the University is right to temporarily suspend activities to address this problem.
This is not the first time a University fraternity has been investigated for hazing activity, and it is not the first time Greek activities have led to the death of a student. Just over 20 years ago, a student was found dead in LSU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon house with a blood-alcohol content of .588, more than seven times the legal limit.
In 2003, Delta Chi was suspended after allegations of paddling, sleep deprivation and excessive calisthenics. One student was allegedly kidnapped, stripped and had a pillowcase soaked in rubbing alcohol placed on his head before being physically abused and forced to drink rubbing alcohol until vomiting blood, according to The Daily Reveille archives.
In 2013, a decade later, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was suspended after hazing allegations that were “sexual in nature,” where members were encouraged to take the virginity of a sorority woman, according to archives.
Then two years ago in March 2015, Acacia was suspended following allegations of forced alcohol consumption, personal servitude, physical violence, thefts during a trip to Auburn University and meal restrictions, the Reveille reported.
Four incidents of misbehavior by some 20 different fraternities on campus over two decades really isn’t all that pronounced a pattern, truth be told, though it’s fair to note chapters being suspended are the only ones getting caught and who knows what’s going on that hasn’t been reported.
Then there is this…
It is clear that past actions have not addressed the issue as a whole. This suspension is an opportunity for University officials to take a hard look at LSU Greek Life to determine how to finally and totally put an end to hazing at the University. It is, however, absurd that it took the death of a student to spur possible change.
Greek Life organizations undoubtedly do good for the University and its surrounding community through philanthropy and serving as campus leaders. But failing to address issues that threaten students’ lives ruin any positive impact these groups have on LSU’s culture.
Even after numerous instances of hazing by several different organizations, the Greek community at large has failed to do any sort of internal reflection to solve this problem. We – as students of this University – sincerely hope this tragic incident brings about change. If the leaders of these organizations fail to take action, any future blood of brothers and sisters is on their hands.
We can all agree that whatever Phi Delt was doing which resulted in Max Gruver dying in their house shouldn’t happen at any fraternity or sorority house, and that needs to be done away with. It does sound like binge alcohol drinking is still being used as a tool in fraternity functions, and that has to stop – the pledges are going to drink, sure, but one unwritten rule of fraternity life is that you’re supposed to learn HOW to drink, not just TO drink, and if you’re killing people with booze you’re obviously terrible at this and should do something else.
But all 20 fraternities? All of the sororities, too? Without evidence that every chapter on campus is engaging in what Phi Delt was doing, it’s hard to see that as a just or intelligent decision. Surely there are fraternities at LSU which aren’t guilty of this kind of behavior – where is their reward for doing things the right way? And if they are punished along with the guilty, where is their motivation for upholding a higher standard?
A smarter way to handle this might be a permanent, or at least a five-year, ban on Phi Delt on LSU’s campus and the audit of pledge practices with respect to every chapter at the university. And perhaps some sort of educational opportunity giving the fraternity chapters some options outside of the old pushups-and-bourbon hazing rituals which carry so much risk with them; part of the problem here is the stupid zero-tolerance policy toward hazing which drives the whole thing underground, and many of these fraternities are forced into a false choice between not having a pledge program making for the kind of difficult ordeal that creates bonding among pledge brothers, and doing it the old way (which, for all its manifest and numerous faults, does actually produce that bonding). By having some reasonable standards whereby a degree of inconvenience and discomfort, which don’t unduly threaten personal safety or academic performance, are allowed, it becomes a lot easier to police the truly abusive and unsafe conduct which Phi Delt, and likely others, are engaging in.
We’ll see if LSU comes around to such a realization. But there are lots of suspicions and concerns that Alexander is making a move on the Greek system as a whole and this was his opportunity to do it. We don’t think that’s true, and we hope the university promotes a healthy and reformed Greek system as a response to Gruver’s tragic and unnecessary death. Only time will tell.