Enough is enough: stopping alcohol-related fraternity deaths

by Daniel Muehring

Matthew Ellis was a newly initiated Phi Kappa Psi member at Texas State Nov. 12. Only hours after his initiation into the brotherhood, he was pronounced dead by medical authorities.

Preliminary investigations suggest alcohol poisoning as the cause of death. Ellis was the fourth pledge or newly initiated member to die from an alcohol-related fraternity event this year.

Previous deaths this year included Andrew Coffey at Florida State, Maxwell Gruver at LSU and Tim Piazza at Penn State.

I was going to write this article about Andrew Coffey, who passed away earlier this month from a similar cause, but Ellis’ death has solidified the need to make this statement. 2017 is now the deadliest year for alcohol-related fraternity deaths since 2008, when four pledges died from alcohol poisoning. In the past decade, over 25 pledges have died either during or shortly after their pledge process — almost all of them due to alcohol poisoning.

Two main goals of fraternity life are developing lifelong bonds and encouraging members to become better men through fulfilling various principles. As a member of a fraternity, I can say that fraternities can, and in some cases do, live up to this goal.

My fraternity brothers are some of the best people I’ve met on campus, and they hold me accountable daily to constantly improve my self-image as a man and student.

However, Greek life – more specifically, fraternity life, as fraternities undoubtedly cause the majority of Greek-related deaths – can be a harsh environment where young, impressionable students looking for a place to belong to are thrust into situations where their eligibility to join an organization depends on forced alcohol consumption.

Who can point to the principle of brotherhood that forced alcohol consumption fulfills? Is it constructive to have associate members poison themselves under the guise of a “bonding experience which will make them closer in the end?”

Alcohol is not the only thing that should be withdrawn from the pledge process – paddling, humiliation and servitude come to mind – but any activity that introduces alcohol into an environment where pledges are incentivized to prove themselves worthy of membership is inherently wrong. Shame on any chapter that believes this a viable way to turn their associate members into better men.

For those in the SMU community involved with organizations that participate in such acts, please do not be afraid to report this behavior to the appropriate authorities.

It may not be this year or the next, or even within your undergraduate career. I can assure you, though, that inaction to report this behavior will cause harm to someone down the line who wishes to join your organization.

Of course, most, if not all, of the schools involved in these events have suspended or banned Greek life, as others have in the past. Some new rules surrounding new member education processes will be proposed and accepted.

However, this is not enough; the continuing deaths prove as much. It is time for a radical change in the way fraternities educate and accept new members into their brotherhoods. Labeling these deaths as tragic, isolated incidents is inappropriate.

The deaths are a result of our collective inaction and lack of accountability toward our brothers, chapters and ourselves.

While hundreds of thousands of undergraduate men run responsible, honorable chapters and organizations, a significant minority of the fraternal community conducts itself inappropriately and subjects its new members to activities that end up costing lives.

We can and must do better if fraternity life should exist and thrive in the future. Universities can only do so much, considering these continuing tragedies, before the logical outcome is to ban all Greek life indefinitely.

If that day comes, we should be mad not at college presidents and student life administrators, but ourselves.

Daniel Muehring is a senior majoring in Economics, Public Policy and Statistical Science. He is a brother of SMU’s Mu Delta Chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity, Inc.

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