August 24, 2020

EPISODE 4

The Blame Game

By Sara Ganim

Runtime: 00:54:29

Below is a transcript of episode 4. We encourage you to listen to the episode. It was written to be heard, not to be read. 

Sara Ganim narration: At the beginning of this project when we started thinking about the concept of this podcast, Why Don’t We Know, I knew that misconduct inside the walls of college fraternities would need to be part of our research. 

It’s one of those sadly persistent stories, it always seems to be hovering, even if just below the surface, it’s never long before it rises up again, swallowing another unsuspecting family into the dark void of senseless heartbreak.

When it does, we as a society are always left asking the same questions. Rarely with satisfying answers. And there’s no one reason for that. Which is probably why it’s been such an impossible problem to solve.

It also makes for a frustrating story to tell. There is no easy fix. No simple solution. It’s a complex web. An entanglement of secrecy. 

Daphne Beletsis: The fraternity brothers were just not talking at all about the party.

David Easlick: They put, basically lies on, on their website.

Sara Ganim narration: Of privacy. 

Jessica Curbelo: They redacted all the names from the final investigative report.

Sara Ganim narration: Of structure. 

Doug Fierberg: For decades, national fraternities have used this structure to shield themselves from liability. 

Sara Ganim narration: And of pride. 

Walter Kimbrough: Very influential and powerful alumni base that doesn’t want their chapter to be gone for three to five years. 

Sara Ganim narration: It’s too often a lethal combination. The fact is there is no mechanism in the United States to force universities or fraternity organizations to record and make public instances of fraternity misconduct.

Like many of the topics we will cover in this season of why don’t we know this is a data desert there is no database for this kind of thing you, as a consumer, cannot do your due diligence and shop smart. 

And so what typically happens is that no one sees that a problem is brewing until it bubbles up and spills over the edge, and there is a death:

News 8 report: “The UC Irvine freshman was found unresponsive”

Sara Ganim narration: A rape

Young Turks Talkshow: Reports of two sexual assaults at a frat house “No means yes, no means yes”

Sara Ganim narration: Or an intolerant attack. 

Unheard Moment: There will never be a *bleep* SAE

Sara Ganim narration: We are left at the mercy of the information that is given to us and what our year-long investigation found is that information is woefully incomplete.

We tried to get records from more than 75 of the largest public universities in the country to track how misconduct at greek organizations is handled by universities. And while we were able to uncover some information there’s still a lot we don’t know.

Mostly, what we found is that there are so many barriers to being an informed participant of the greek system. It’s a lesson learned in the most painful and tragic way, for Daphne Beletsis.

Daphne Beletsis: He was very exuberant, very athletic, always had a lot of friends. Played sports all through school, soccer, basketball, football baseball. Mostly loved basketball though. He really loved that and he was very sad that he never got more than about 5,10 and a half.

He loved the beach. I do think that, that geography was appall for Santa Cruz for sure. 

UC Santa Cruz, is a very rural campus. I think it felt kind of isolating and he did not have all of the social life he would have hoped. 

He had friends in the dorm who did pledge their freshman year and was going to live his sophomore year with some guys that were in the fraternity and I just think he wanted it. It looked appealing to him.

I know that the pledge quarter, which was his first quarter of his sophomore year was very hard on him. He did complain, he was very run ragged that quarter in terms of demands on his time and frustrated and tired.

I got a message that he was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. He’d fallen out a window and he was on his way to a trauma center in San Jose.

Well, two of his fraternity brothers met me at the hospital that night. And they told me very explicitly that it was not a fraternity party, that it was a pop up bring your own booze party and that Alex must have been drunk and stumbled out a second story bathroom window

I just thought, you know, okay, he didn’t stumble out this window, something happened. 

Sara Ganim narration: From the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, I’m Sara Ganim, and you’re listening to an episode of ‘Why Don’t We Know’ the podcast that dives deep into data and comes out with real stories.

 It’s been more than two years since Alex Beletsis fell from that window. 

Daphne Belestis: I still don’t know exactly why or how he went from inside the bathroom to the ground below and I may never know that. But I have learned a lot more about the party and the events of that evening and the fact that it was very much a fraternity party specifically to welcome that quarters pledges.

Sara Ganim narration: The “crossover” party is widely known as one of the three deadliest nights in fraternity world. Alex, a sophomore, at UC Santa Cruz, was crossing over into a leadership position that night at a party held an apartment functioning as an unofficial fraternity house.

Daphne Beletsis: It was at a house that was occupied by six or seven fraternity members, including the president, and it was at a house that had been a huge problem all year long.

Sara Ganim narration: In fact, paramedics had been called to that house seven times already that year, and the fraternity was coming off two years of discipline for alcohol-related misconduct. According to the university’s internal investigation, the chapter had long-standing rituals in place, designed to break down and haze pledges, and those included vulgar slurs, physical hazing, alcohol hazing and forced drug abuse. The night of Alex’s fall, the investigation report reveals that Alex was given alcohol and cocaine and when it was clear he was in a medical crisis, he was told to go to the bathroom to quote “calm down.”

Daphne Beletsis: He fell head first from a second story window onto a concrete alley or asphalt alley and he pretty much didn’t break his fall except by his head. He didn’t have other broken bones or arms or anything. So he had a massive head injury and a crushed spine.

Sara Ganim narration: In the days that followed, his injuries were so severe that doctors couldn’t really assess the full extent.

Daphne Beletsis: Because he was not stable enough to go in an MRI machine for most of that time and when he was finally stable enough to do that and we saw the extent of the damage to both head and spine, and it seemed unlikely he’d ever not be vegetative and if he was, he wouldn’t have communication or comprehension or vision or anything that might give him any quality of life. The decision was made to remove his ventilator and he was very ventilator dependent. So it took him about I think, 40 minutes to pass away. The whole thing’s horrifying. You know, all the cliches about a parent losing a child are very true and to be there and to witness it is hard and heartbreaking, but the truth is, once I really understood the ramifications of those MRIs, I think it was just modern science kept him supposedly alive for those 18 days because he really probably shouldn’t have survived.

Sara Ganim narration: During those 18 days,  while Daphne was busy keeping vigil over her dying son, the fraternity members were plenty busy too. 

Jessica Curbelo narration: They posted a warning to their private facebook group, saying, quote “keep your f—ing mouth shut about the entire situation.” 

Sara Ganim narration: Why Don’t We Know reporter Jessica Curbelo explains.

Jessica Curbelo narration: And they held an immediate, mandatory in-person meeting, where they documented what was said in the formal meeting minutes. Statements like “Crucial not to provide information”, “The university does not have much information”, “I don’t know is an intelligent answer” and  “We are being supported by our nationals.” In fact, it seems they were being supported by their nationals. It later came out that Theta Chi’s national president contacted the university to declare that Alex’s death was not connected to a chapter event. Which we now know is not true because the university’s own internal investigation found that the event was hosted by Theta Chi, and Alex’s death was the direct result of hazing.

Sara Ganim narration: But the details of that report were kept secret. Still today, no member of the public has ever seen the full findings, not even Daphne Beletsis. And the only reason we know anything at all, is because Daphne hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit. Before that, you would not be able to find any of those details about the hazing, the prior discipline, the attempted cover-up by the fraternity. In fact, when we first learned about Alex Beletsis, Jess googled his name. It was about a year and a half after his death. 

Jessica Curbelo narration: It was downright shocking. I couldn’t find a single thing about how Alex died, or that it was related to hazing. There was zero mention of it on the internet. I couldn’t even find mention of Alex’s membership in a fraternity until I went digging and found his facebook. 

Sara Ganim narration: I remember we were on the phone with the family attorney, Doug Fierberg, someone who I’ve known well for years because he has represented many victims of fraternity misconduct, and he started telling us about Alex and how the story had really been buried, after a few minutes you jumped in, Jess, and said, this seems really crazy but it’s like he’s been wiped off the internet.

Jessica Curbelo narration: While you guys were talking about his case I was googling and barely found an acknowledgement that he died. I had never experienced anything like that before. 

Sara Ganim narration: It seemed remarkable, and almost impossible, that in this day and age of an almost omnipresent internet that a student could die and there would be no trace of it. The fact is, that even though the university conducted a 10-month investigation, and eventually banned Theta Chi, the university never publicly acknowledged what it found in it’s report that Alex Beletsis died because of hazing. The whole thing was pretty hush-hush. 

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: I still miss Alex really, really deeply. 

Sara Ganim narration: Jess talked to one of Alex’s non-fraternity friends. He said Alex was one of the kindest people that he stood up for people who were marginalized and not popular.

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He always stood up for people marginalized by society, you know? He stood up for people who weren’t quote unquote popular or whatever. He stood up for people who were being made fun of.

Jessica Curbelo: Where were you when you first learned that Alex had passed away?

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: I was at home with my grandma. I was looking at my phone, and I saw the news. I was like holy shit. He did not deserve that at all. It’s really depressing me, and it’s still depressing me just thinking about it now. 

Jessica Curbelo: Do you feel like students generally knew what happened to Alex?

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: General population? No. 

Jessica Curbelo: What about generally the people who knew Alex or were at least acquainted with Alex?

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: No.

Jessica Curbelo: For an entire year, all that you were told is that Alex had wandered off and fallen out of the window?

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: Yeah, that’s what I was told.

Jessica Curbelo: You found out from the news that that’s not what happened.

Alex Beletsis’ Friend: Yeah, I found out from the freakin’ news, yeah.

Doug Fierberg: It’s tragedy and sadness heaped on tragedy and sadness. 

Sara Ganim narration: Doug Fierberg, the Beletsis family attorney has been working on cases like this, pretty exclusively for more than 30 years, and so he’s used to battling this kind of concealment.

Doug Fierberg: Well, it starts with the young men going into an organization that at the outset talks about secrecy and the bonds of fraternity and the bonds of secrecy and the bonds to each other. And from that point on, everyone’s instructed to keep fraternity events and issues within the fraternity and not to rat out anyone else. So then when you have a circumstance where something’s happened in the middle of the night or undercover or away from the general public, it becomes very difficult for people to pull apart the individuals and get people to tell the truth because by the time police or emergency personnel arrive on this scene, individuals have already started, I mean, and as a general matter, started cleaning the area and getting their stories straight.

And so then when the police arrive, they’re facing a wall of secrecy, and if it’s a serious tragedy that merits the national fraternity’s involvement, they’re usually on campus within a day or two of a significant tragedy, again, identifying for the fraternity brothers that they’re a resource for them to be talking to, but that things should be kept in the fraternity and people shouldn’t be talking to the public or the press.

Sara Ganim narration: The cover-up in the Beletsis case, Fierberg says was particularly effective. 

Doug Fierberg: It was kept under wraps. The family did not know that his death was being investigated by the university and did not know until they saw a copy of a report several months later that the investigative findings were absolutely damning and indicated that Alex died as a result of severe hazing and severe misconduct and if you check even the public record now, it’s very difficult to find any information linking the fraternity, the fraternity brothers to Alex’s death.

Daphne Beletsis: After he died, there was a short little article that went only to his sub college announcing his death, saying not a word about the fraternity or the party or the circumstances. And following the investigation nearly a year after his death, there was no sort of public press release and if I had not filed my lawsuit. You would Google Alex’s name and probably not get much more than his local Santa Rosa newspaper obituary.

Sara Ganim narration: Here’s how the information finally came out. After Alex was taken off life support Daphne’s focus shifted from a bedside vigil, to a fervent search for answers.

Daphne Beletsis: I was still in the dark. I was still very confused. I didn’t even know UC Santa Cruz was investigating. They were quick with communication with the national office of Theta Chi and not talking to me at all.

Sara Ganim narration: In her desperation, she filed something called a freedom of information request to try to get more information. A freedom of information request, by law, gives the public the right to certain documents at public institutions, like a public university, like UC Santa Cruz.

Daphne Beletsis: I sent requests asking for records reflecting discipline interactions with this particular fraternity. And I sent them in October and I got the first set of records at the very end of March, so almost six months.

Sara Ganim narration: This is one of the realities of open records laws. In theory, these laws should make documents like this public, and force transparency. But in reality, there are many tactics institutions can use to keep things from getting out and delays are one of them.

Daphne Beletsis: And it was only 57 pages. I mean, it wasn’t like it was voluminous and it was only a partial response. So, it took six months to get records, which in hindsight if you want to sue a public entity, which the University of California is, you have a six month claims statute of limitations. So it’s very convenient for them that I had no information about the prior discipline of Theta Chi until that time frame had run. And when those records came in, they reflected a serious discipline in 2015 and 2016. 2015 Theta Chi had one year of disciplinary probation and in 2016 they had one year of suspension.So when Alex was pledging, they were just coming off a period of suspension and-

Sara Ganim: And you didn’t know that and it’s likely he didn’t know that, right?

Daphne Beletsis: No, yeah, no, I didn’t know that. And the most heartbreaking thing in these records was a March 24, 2016 email from a UC Santa Cruz administrator in the context of discussing this discipline and she said, “I’m concerned there are no consequences for Theta Chi not completing any of the requirements of their probation. I’m particularly concerned that this is the chapter that has an unresolved complaint involving the possible administration of drugs. Is the university being negligent by allowing this chapter to move forward?” The violations involved alcohol, an under age kid needing an ambulance from a fraternity party. So, the answer was a resounding yes, it was a bad fraternity engaged in scary conduct and yes, it was heartbreaking to see that Santa Cruz knew and had an opportunity to take action that would have changed. Alex would probably still be here if that fraternity had been closed down like it should have been.

Sara Ganim narration: UC Santa Cruz is far from the only university that has been accused of being too secretive with information about discipline. in fact, our year-long quest for these disciplinary records at major public universities across the country shows that most schools are not making prior discipline public even though they have the information. Most commonly, if you go searching online, what you’ll see are statistics things like the average gpa is higher than the non-greek student gpa. Millions raised for charity each year, hundreds of thousands of hours of community service. Stats like that, rarely will you find much else. 

And even if you request records of discipline, say through a public records request like daphne beletsis did at many of these institutions, you still won’t get the information without paying a pretty hefty fee. 

Here’s what happened when we asked more than 80 different public universities across the country for records of discipline of greek organizations: 25 percent provided the disciplinary records, when we asked, but told us that most of that information is not readily available online for students and parents and the public to see. 12 percent told us they had no information to share at all. Another 28 percent of universities said they have this information and they’d be happy to hand it over, as long as we pay for it. Some schools asked for a few hundred dollars, some asked for thousands of dollars to deliver this information.

The biggest bill we got was from the University of Maryland, they asked for $6,500. 

I asked them, why so much money for records that so many other universities provided for free, or for much, much less? The response was that they felt they calculated a fee that was in compliance with state law.

Still, I suppose that answer is better than the 25 percent of schools that said absolutely nothing in response to our request. they ignored us completely. So basically what we get out of this is that half of universities told us “Yeah, we have this information, but we’re not inclined to make it easily available online.”

Walter Kimbrough: I think the issue is people don’t want to create that kind of record because that kind of record easily available would be used against an institution in a lawsuit.

Sara Ganim narration: Walter Kimbrough is the president of Dillard University in New Orleans, he’s also worn a bunch of hats in the fraternity world. He was on the national board of directors for his own fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, he was the greek life coordinator at Emory University, and

Walter Kimbrough: So, I started my career, been involved with associations, done training for NIC Groups, field consultant training, lots of workshops. And then I guess over the last, I guess, 20 years now, so I’ve been an expert witness in hazing cases. So I’ve seen it as a campus person, as an expert witness, as a person working for national groups with commission. So, I think I’ve pretty much seen all the different angles.

Sara Ganim narration: In fact, Kimbrough himself has tried to get some of this same information we tried to get. 

Walter Kimbrough: We asked for similar kinds of data. I want to see all of your hazing cases over the last 10 years and nobody has that. So, they’ll give you a ton of stuff that you have to try to go through or they slow walk that to try to get some of that information for you. But people don’t want to keep that kind of information because if you have that kind of information, then the case is made “okay University of Maryland, you’ve had a 100 different violations in the last two years, so what are you doing wrong as a part of it?” And the institution might not be doing anything wrong but they don’t want to create that kind of record that would be used against them. Because national groups don’t like to keep those records either, so I just think people don’t want to, they just don’t want to create a record that could be used against them legally. 

Sara Ganim narration: The data we collected really backs that up. Of the 80 schools we asked, only eight of them have the information, online and available to look at. One of those schools is Clemson University, where a student named tucker hipps died in 2014. When Hipps died and his parents learned that there were an unprecedented number of misconduct violations in the weeks leading up to his death, they pushed for a new state law that would force these violations to go up in real-time.

Jessica Curbelo narration: It’s called the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act, and it says that all universities in the state of South Carolina must provide a public report of any misconduct violations at greek letter organizations

Sara Ganim narration: Jess, you talked to the director of fraternity and sorority life at clemson. 

Jessica Curbelo narration: Yes, his name is Gary Wiser. 

Gary Wiser: Last summer when it became officially a permanent law within South Carolina. It was one of the first states to make it a law to post organizational conduct whatever it takes for people to make an informed decision about the organization that they want to join, that is not a bad thing.

Jessica Curbelo Narration: He told me that he does believe that it has made Clemson safer.

Gary Wiser: I truly believe that the period when we had a fourth of our IFC fraternities that were suspended for hazing and risk management violations. And students seeing that there are repercussions for those actions, it really helped when we were working with students. That, they had that sense of urgency that a cultural change needs to exist, or needs to take place, within fraternity/sorority life, in particular.

Jessica Curbelo narration: That said, there are still some huge gaps of information.

Sara Ganim narration: Like what?

Jessica Curbelo narration: Well, for one, if you look at Clemson’s disciplinary report online, and you go to the date that tucker hipps died, all you will see is that on that date Sigma Phi Epsilon, quote “engaged in activities that endangered the safety and health of new members”

Sara Ganim narration: So, you wouldn’t know that someone actually died during those activities.

Jessica Curbelo narration: No, you would not know that. And I asked Gary Wiser about this. 

Jessica Curbelo: Why does the public incident report not mention that someone passed away?

Gary Wiser: I think you would need to talk to the Office of Community and Ethical Standards about the language used in that report, since they were the ones that manage that.

Jessica Curbelo narration: But he deferred me to this other office at Clemson that handles the actual wording of these violations. and when i reached them via email, they didn’t respond.

Sara Ganim narration: I shared this scenario with Walter Kimbrough.

Sara Ganim: And so I just found that to be so interesting because it’s even when there’s forced transparency, there’s not even transparency.

Walter Kimbrough: Right? No, I mean, just for a lot of reasons, some of them are political, people just don’t want to deal with those issues. 

Sara Ganim narration: UC Santa Cruz, the school where Alex Beletsis died they did send us one document.

Jessica Curbelo narration: We asked for all of their disciplinary records, but all they shared was the one investigative report generated after Alex Beletsis died. When we pressed for other disciplinary records,  they said “no records exist.”

Sara Ganim narration: What struck me most about their response wasn’t what they shared but how long it took for them to share it. 

Jessica Curbelo narration: Yes. We filed our public records request on October 31, 2019, and got the response on June 8, 2020. 

Sara Ganim narration: Eight months later, so that’s certainly not helpful if you’re trying to decide what organization you might join. It’s certainly not realistic that you’d have to wait eight months to get the information that might help you make an informed decision.

Jessica Curbelo narration: Now, put that into the context of the Beletsis case. Daphne Beletsis only found out after her son died that there were disciplinary problems brewing at Theta Chi. At UC Santa Cruz, nothing about that process has changed. A parent or student today could not go online and immediately find out what’s happening.

Sara Ganim narration: I went to the UC Santa Cruz greek life website, just to see what they do have up there for prospective greek students. It’s a simple page with a date at the top,  it was last updated in July 2018, just a few weeks after Alex Beletsis died. It says why go greek? 

Greek-Letter Organizations promote high academic achievement.

Greek-Letter Organizations strengthen leadership skills.

Greek-Letter Organizations encourage service.

Then it says, “But what about…hazing?”

“Once a common tradition, hazing has been banned by all national, local, and international fraternal organizations and institutions of higher education. The University of California, Santa Cruz strictly enforces this policy, and organizations found in violation are subject to immediate suspension of campus recognition and privileges, as well as negative legal repercussions.”

Well, that might be partly true. UC Santa Cruz did kick Theta Chi out after concluding its super-secret 10-month investigation. But, evidence of all that other stuff?

Daphne Beletsis: I did a followup record request to ask for evidence of these values that they put on the student organization website. Show me the philanthropy, the good works, the community service and I got nothing. None of that’s going on. 

Sara Ganim narration: We asked UC Santa Cruz for a response to our story, and they did address some of the issues we’ve raised. 

A spokesman wrote in an email that the university never publicly linked Alex Beletsis’s death to the dismissal of the fraternity out of respect for the privacy of the family. He also said that the delay in communicating with daphne beletsis was due to the active investigation. And that generally speaking, when a campus organization violates the student code of conduct the policy is to try to educate, rather than apply sanctions. As for why it took eight months to turn over the report to us when we asked for it, he said they try to respond to requests in a timely manner. 

This is Why Don’t We Know 

We couldn’t have made this podcast without research and reporting help from students at the University of Florida. You can help support them, by making a donation to our student scholarship fund. You can find the information on our website www.whydontweknow.org

 Sara Ganim narration: The year before Alex Beletsis, another 18-year-old fraternity pledge died, this time at Louisiana State University. Max Gruver had been put through a Phi Delta Theta fraternity hazing ritual called “bible study,” where pledges had to chug alcohol if they gave the wrong answer to trivia questions. Gruver’s blood alcohol level was almost .5. It’s a fatal dose for most people. 

WWLTV: Now yesterday, LSU lost one of their own, an 18 year old student pronounced dead after leaving this frat house.

Sara Ganim narration: This was also attorney Doug Fierberg’s case and it’s important to mention because of what Fierberg uncovered at LSU once again thanks. 

Doug Fierberg: Where the instances of fraternity hazing and often in dangerous circumstances were extremely frequent at the university, but the university’s response to those incidents was at best lax and most accurately unserious, not significant, irrelevant, and students were given a pat on the back and nothing serious happened to them. And the converse was true for sororities, where there were certain incidents that were by no means life-threatening, but yet they were responded to by LSU with the harshest means necessary.

Sara Ganim: Why is that?

Doug Fierberg: There’s a lot of individuals that believe that boys will be boys, and everything that’s good in a male world is not to be completely fooled around with. And fraternities have a very strong influence at certain campuses. They have very active alumni, they support the school programs actively, and stay in close contact with the university, contribute to the university and are regularly cheerleaders for the university long after they’ve left.

Sara Ganim narration: It can’t be understated how much alumni influence has hindered progress on this topic. Think about it, universities are transient. Current members cycle out every four years, which should allow for fast change. But as alumni, greeks give back approximately 75 percent of all money that is donated to universities. Seventy-five percent,  that number is huge!

Walter Kimbrough: Big institutions don’t want to deal with it because you’re starting to deal with a very influential and powerful alumni base that doesn’t want their chapter to be gone for three to five years because something happens. And I know for a fact that’s held over the head of people so, you’re juggling a lot of different constituencies 

Sara Ganim narration: When he said that, I immediately thought of a man named David Easlick.

David Easlick: What has it been, about five years?

Sara Ganim: I know, right? I’m sorry

Sara Ganim narration: I first met Easlick in 2015, when a female student died after a party at the Rutgers University D-K-E frat house. Easlick reached out to me. I was a CNN correspondent when he told me his story for the first time recounted again here for this podcast. 

David Easlick: I was trying to discourage hazing because we had had a lawsuit that basically nailed us. How about a million dollars in damages and almost put us out of business

Sara Ganim narration: Easlick was the national president and ceo of Delta Kappa Epsilon D-K-E. The fraternity is best known for having six United States presidents as members. But in 1998, David Easlick got a call in the middle of the night  that a pledge at the University of Washington named John Laduca had hanged himself from a sprinkler pipe in his bedroom after a week-long initiation ceremony called “Hell Week.”

David Easlick: And it was totally covered up by the undergraduates and the alumni that he’d been hazed within an inch of his life and he’d been hazed by a Canadian member of our board who was a lawyer who was also later arrested for child abuse and he had planned the entire initiation. And this thing was totally covered up from me.

Sara Ganim narration: Easlick says that it was a turning point for him, and he wanted to implement change that would make sure it would never happen again. 

David Easlick: And we would bring up at every convention, you know, who was the person who had the most impact on the fraternity ever and they, you know, people would say various presidents of the United States and stuff. And I would say, no, it was John LaDuca 

Sara Ganim narration:But his one-man crusade was short-lived.

David Easlick:  I went to a birthday party for the chairman of our foundation and I went inside and they asked me to go outside and a bunch of drunks basically who were on a board of directors said, “You’re fired and go home.” And that was, that was the end of me. The problem with alumni members of the fraternities is basically they were all hazed and they do remember all had that hazing and it’s now seen through a backward lens that, “Oh, wasn’t that fun?” Although it was really not fun.

Sara Ganim narration: Easlick now works as an expert witness for fraternity misconduct cases that end up in court. But the more you watch these cases meander through the justice system, the more you realize, the nature and relationship between the national fraternities, local chapters and universities it’s a complicated legal entanglement that basically adds up to “no one ever has to take real responsibility for anything”

For example, one school we sought records from Utah State University. They told us

Quote “greek organizations are not located on campus therefore usu does not have responsive records.” But if you go to their greek life web page,  it’s clear these are university-affiliated organizations. The university brags about their service, academics, and leadership.

Sara Ganim: That complicated relationship makes it easy for everyone else just to wash their hands and say, “Not my problem?”

Doug Fierberg: It does make it complicated. And it has many more layers than that. So universities, while they recognize fraternities, they seek to distance themselves from the harm they cause in recognition agreements or in other principles of law. And then you have national fraternities that have housing corporations, that own the real estate that the chapter may operate out of, you have the chapter, which is at least considered wrongly by the national fraternity and it’s engineered in this way to be a so-called separate legal entity. So, there are a lot of roadblocks that govern how the law is going to respond to a particular incident and any given weekend. And from our perspective, the fraternities have managed it and engineered it this way, in part to reduce the potential liability

Sara Ganim narration: So when you see local chapters shut down after misconduct, often that’s not entirely honorable. It’s an attempt to shield from litigation.

Doug Fierberg: The national fraternity can come in afterwards and with the wave of a wand, make it disappear and then argue that the thing that may have been involved in causing this injury and death is no longer viable and around to be sued or sue. And all of that from a puppeteer perspective is controlled by the national fraternity, from the outset as to how the local chapter is set up

Sara Ganim: Has their argument worked so far? I mean, have national fraternities been successful as shielding themselves by simply closing the local chapter and walking away?

Doug Fierberg: For decades, national fraternities have used this structure to shield themselves from liability. 

Sara Ganim narration: Daphne Beletsis wants to change that.

Doug Fierberg: The Beletsis case is the first case in this country ever to go after the actual engineered structure of the fraternity system from the way a national is incorporated to the manner in which it oversees and incorporates housing corporations, and then all the way down to the chapter level. These are false differences and that each one of these organizations is part of the same organization and an alter ego of the fraternity organization in general. And that the law should not recognize distinct differences between these three entities because to do so only fraudulently protects the organization itself. And in the Beletsis lawsuit, we argue that all of that is a sham. 

Sara Ganim narration: Since 1969, there has been at least one university hazing death each year in america. And in recent years, the numbers have been terribly high, most of them related to alcohol overdoses. Last year alone, at least seven students died because of fraternity misconduct, seven students who were just like Alex Beletsis. 

Jessica Curbelo narration: Noah Domingo, 18-years-old, died from alcohol poisoning on January 12, 2019, after “big brother night” at the University of California Irvine chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

Bea Castro, 19, died March 17, 2019, of alcohol poisoning after allegedly being forced to drink during an initiation for the California State Fullerton chapter of Chi Sigma Phi.

Sebastian Serafin-Bazan, 18, went into cardiac arrest and later died on April 17, 2019, after a suspected hazing incident involving the University at Buffalo chapter of Sigma Pi.

Antonio Tsialas, 18, was found dead in a gorge on October 24, 2019, after a night of heavy drinking at a “Christmas in october” party hosted for new potential members by the Cornell University chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.

Dylan Hernandez, 19, died on November 7, 2019, after he fell out of his bunk bed and fractured his skull. His blood-alcohol level was about 0.23 after attending a party the night before held by the San Diego State University chapter of Phi Gamma Delta.

Samuel Martinez, 19, died from alcohol poisoning on November 12, 2019. He was found in the fraternity house of the Washington State University chapter of Alpha Tau Omega.

Marlon Jackson, 23, died on February 24, 2019, after falling asleep behind the wheel and crashing his car with three other passengers inside. He was allegedly sleep deprived while pledging the Delaware State University chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi.


Sara Ganim narration: And that’s just in 2019. 

This is Why Don’t We Know. 

Get updates and read more about our reporting by visiting our website, whydon’tweknow.org

we’re posting new stuff all the time to help people like you better understand, Why Don’t We Know.

 Five universities who we asked for records, they mentioned a law called FERPA, you’re going to hear a lot about FERPA later on this season. It’s the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and it dictates what records should be kept private. We’re not going to attempt to detangle the confusing mess of FERPA in this episode, we’re leaving that for a little while later in the season, but let’s just say FERPA is widely misinterpreted and it’s applied differently at different institutions.The chaotic nature of ferpa means that you’ll often see different information released from school to school, even within the same state system. I called some of the schools that said they don’t have data and some told me that, yes, this information about discipline exists, but just not in a central place that ties it back to greek letter organizations. 

So basically, the information lives in individual student conduct files. That keeps it protected by FERPA. If it lived in the more straight-forward place, the organization’s file. Those protections wouldn’t exist, and the information would be easier to find. 

Doug Fierberg: And in some respects, when they look at their state privacy laws or the federal privacy laws, they take a broad approach believing that any student personally identifiable information is to be kept confidential. And in many circumstances, there are ways of releasing critically important information about certain events or tragedies without violating state or federal law. And their policies should be in favor of doing that and doing it in a timely, complete manner.

Sara Ganim narration: FERPA is also the reason that Daphne Beletsis still hasn’t seen the entirety of the investigative report into what happened to her son. 

Doug Fierberg: The student’s names have been redacted. And that is now the subject of a fight in the litigation to get the report unredacted, but still the Beletsis family has not gotten the report unredacted to know who did what, when and where. 

Sara Ganim narration: A university spokesperson told me it’s partly for the protection of witnesses. But to the family, what it essentially means is that because of the privacy interest of the people involved in their son’s death the family can’t see the full findings of the investigation. This is not that uncommon. In states where this information is required to be provided by law names are still redacted. Reporter Jessica Curbelo raised this with Clemson’s director of fraternity and sorority life. 

Jessica Curbelo: Do you personally think the Tucker Hipps Act is enough?

Gary Wiser: I feel like hazing laws in particular, within the States, need to go after the individuals more, because if the individuals are not held accountable and they’re still allowed to be students at the university, I don’t really feel like that goes far enough. You can suspend a fraternity or sorority or any type of student organization from a campus, but they’re still, If the individuals that were involved in the incident aren’t held accountable, then they’re still members of a campus community. And we need to, as a general, across the country, we need to do a better job at holding the individuals accountable.

Sara Ganim narration: Here’s why he’s right about individual accountability. It’s possible that the people who force-feed pledges alcohol or don’t call for help when someone’s dying from alcohol poisoning are getting brought up on disciplinary charges and punished. But it’s also possible that they’re not. it’s entirely possible that the grand total of punishment for putting someone’s life in danger is a couple of years’ probation for the fraternity, and that’s it. The reality is, we’ll never know. and we’ll never know because colleges have constructed this off-the-books secret justice system that leaves behind very little paper trail, and lets people come out the other end with a clean reputation because it’s a secret.

Either way, you have to consider that the majority of fraternity members in the United States are white, and so a lack of individual accountability highlights some racial disparities that are seldom discussed. Basically, what it boils down to, is that rich white kids are often protected from criminal or near-criminal actions that anyone else would obviously face consequences for. Oh, and we’ll probably never know about it. 

It begs the question of why if this mission is to keep these organizations safe, then why aren’t the national chapters posting misconduct. Wouldn’t that help all the people who are pledging for the right reasons make better decisions? I posed this question to Jud Horras, the president of the North American Interfraternity Council. 

Jud declined to do an interview with me to talk about the data that we collected. In an email, his spokesperson told me that Horras supports a congressional bill that would force universities to make all of these misconduct records public. It’s called the “end all hazing act,” but this bill has been stalled in a congressional committee for more than a year. 

So I asked him in an email why not instead force the greek letter organizations to post this information. After all, these are private organizations that are not bound by privacy laws like FERPA.His answer is that hazing, and other misconduct, are campus-wide issues that extend beyond fraternities to athletics, marching bands, and other student groups. And so he believes this bill would be the best resource for parents and students. David Easlick, the former president of D-K-E, does not agree.

David Easlick: The problem with the NIC and Jud Horace and all those people are basically, they’re trying to protect the industry. The schools don’t necessarily have the information and the fraternities do. Basically, the fraternities can tell you everything that you want to know. You want a national perspective. You want somebody who’s going to join SAE or DKE or whatever, they’d like to know if they’ve done anything to combat hazing? Have they had any significant hazing cases? And those records are totally available because the two insurance companies that insure the fraternities are both owned by the national fraternities. One is owned by seven national fraternities and then the other one is the fraternity risk management trust — That’s owned by 37 fraternities and that has millions of dollars in it. But they keep track of every incident and they keep the ones that don’t get any attention and the ones that maybe don’t even get to the school. Now, they’re the ones that are out there with the administrator, settling each one of these cases. They send somebody out, first thing, to try to settle it. They have 100% of this information available, it could be disclosed, it could be published, and it could be out there. But of course I don’t think, as an insurance company, they’re going to do it, and then I know as a national, they don’t want it.

Sara Ganim: I mean, why not though? You would think an insurance company would want to force better safe practices.

David Easlick: Well, they’re owned by the fraternities.

Sara Ganim narration: The focus of this podcast is secrecy in government, and so as you listen to this podcast, you are going to hear us exploring a lot of different topics that relate  back to reasons why we can’t get certain information. This issue of greek organization misconduct — it touches on so many of those issues. It touches on the faulty structures, weak laws, cultural problems, a lack of data and also, something else that we sadly see repeating throughout the season, a lack willingness to make meaningful progress.

Doug Fierberg: These are public institutions that have a serious health problem on their campus. One of the single strongest predictors of binge drinking is fraternity membership. And the fact that with so many students hurt or killed or sexually assaulted in this system, the idea that there would be hurdles to getting access to the accurate information about those risks is on some level criminal or gross neglect because the universities haven’t focused on it, or they’ve decided that it’s not important enough. Then you’ve got people looking at policy changes that are only half informed or one third informed or certainly not fully informed because It is in fact true that fraternities are extremely dangerous on college campuses around the country and that the public would not have accurate information about that is a crime shame after this many decades of kids dying and getting hurt and sexually assaulted. The universities don’t want to have these types of blemishes on their record with respect to the alcohol drug misuse and the Greek system. But again, these are conscious choices to keep the public in the dark. 

Sara Ganim narration: Imagine losing a kid and then running into these brick walls while you’re just trying to figure out what happened. 

Daphne Beletsis: Well, I think, you know, you’re right, you’re hitting the nail on the head because any parent that loses a child is fairly desperate to understand why and how that happened. And so to be met, both with fraternity, not only stonewalling, but blatant dishonesty, lack of cooperation but also radio silence from the university. You know, it is very frustrating. I don’t know, is it just so valuable to be able to advertise that you have a Greek system? Is that a draw for kids that you put up with this kind of risky behavior? Frankly, I was shocked, you know, I was shocked by what I read that it would be going on in this day and age with this age kids extreme, racist, sexist, homophobic taunts in the hazing process. Just drunk drinking to a stupor. Just stuff I guess, like I said, I was too naive. I think for the fraternity to get away with this kind of conduct is morally repugnant. We’re just willing to lose young people every year for what? And the fraternity sits back and collects $400 a quarter per member and takes no steps to make sure that the fraternity is operating in a safe way. So my goal is really simple. The alternative doing nothing was to me. I would like to see the fraternity change. I’d like to see fraternity culture change and that’s my goal.

Sara Ganim narration: Next time. 

Terry Mutchler: 50 plus years into the Freedom of Information Act. We are still experiencing agencies. That considers the right to know to be right to N-O.

Sara Ganim narration: We take a step back, and geek out a little about our own fact-finding experience.

Dave Cuillier: I mean, it’s not in their best interest to give out information that they don’t want out. So it’s very convenient to under staff that office. 

Matt Reed: They create a bubble of kind of secrecy around them, whether they intend to or not, because they don’t want people to know.

Sara Ganim narration: That’s next time, on Why Don’t We Know.

This episode was written and produced by me, Sara Ganim.

Jessica Curbelo is the main reporter.

The associate producer is Tori Whidden.

In addition Kelly Hayes and Lexi Fletcher filed public records requests for this episode. 

This episode was edited by Luke Barrientos and James Sullivan

Music for this episode was composed by Daniel Townsend

Audio mixing was done by James Sullivan.

The executive producer is Frank LoMonte.

‘Why Don’t We Know’ is a production of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

A special thanks to the Hearst family foundation for proving the grant money that supported this reporting.

For more information, please visit our website at www.whydontweknow.org

 

I think the issue is people don’t want to create that kind of record because that kind of record easily available would be used against an institution in a lawsuit,” said Walter Kimbrough. He’s the current president of Dillard University in New Orleans, but he’s also worn a bunch of hats in the fraternity world, including Greek life coordinator, consultant, expert witness and member of the national board of directors for his own fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

“So I’ve seen it as a campus person, as an expert witness, as a person working for national groups with commission. So, I think I’ve pretty much seen all the different angles,” he said.

In fact, Kimbrough himself has tried to get some of this same information we tried to get.

“We asked for similar kinds of data. I want to see all of your hazing cases over the last 10 years and nobody has that. So, they’ll give you a ton of stuff that you have to try to go through or they slow walk that to try to get some of that information for you. But people don’t want to keep that kind of information.”

The data we collected really backs that up. Of the 80 schools we asked, only six of them have the information ready, online and available to look at.

One of those schools is Clemson University, where a student named Tucker Hipps died in 2014. Hipps’ parents learned that there were an unprecedented number of misconduct violations in the weeks leading up to his death and then pushed for a new state law that would force these violations to go up in real-time. It’s called the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act, and it says that all universities in the state of South Carolina must provide a public report of misconduct violations at Greek letter organizations.

Last summer when it became officially a permanent law within South Carolina, it was one of the first states to make it a law to post organizational conduct,” said Gary Wiser, Clemson’s director of fraternity and sorority life. “Whatever it takes for people to make an informed decision about the organization that they want to join, that is not a bad thing.”

That said, there are still some huge gaps of information. For example, if you look at Clemson’s disciplinary report online, and you go to the date that Tucker Hipps died, all you will see on that date is that the fraternity “engaged in activities that endangered the safety and health of new members.” You wouldn’t know that someone actually died during those activities.

‘No responsive records’

In response to our records request for all disciplinary records at Greek letter organizations, The University of California, Santa Cruz, the school where Alex Beletsis died, shared only one document: The redacted investigative report about his death. For other organizations, the university said “no records exist.”

When we followed up, asking for more records, a university spokesman said “When a campus organization violates our student code of conduct, we generally seek to provide educational sanctions that support the further education and development of our students and that are appropriate for the violation.”

The records they did share are also not available online. And our request for them took eight months to process – a timeline that certainly would not be helpful for a parent or student making a decision about what organization to join. Daphne Beletsis only found out after her son died that his fraternity had a history of prior discipline.

I checked the UC Santa Cruz Greek life website to see what information they have for prospective Greek students. It’s a simple page, last updated in July 2018, just a few weeks after Alex Beletsis died.

It says: “Why Go Greek?” And then:

  • Greek-Letter Organizations promote high academic achievement.
  • Greek-Letter Organizations strengthen leadership skills.
  • Greek-Letter Organizations encourage service.

Then it says: “But what about hazing?” Then:

“Once a common tradition, hazing has been banned by all national, local, and international fraternal organizations and institutions of higher education. The University of California, Santa Cruz strictly enforces this policy, and organizations found in violation are subject to immediate suspension of campus recognition and privileges, as well as negative legal repercussions.”

That might be partly true. UC Santa Cruz did kick Theta Chi out after concluding its super-secret 10-month investigation. But evidence of all that other stuff?

“I did a follow-up record request to ask for evidence of these values that they put on the student organization website,” Daphne Beletsis said. “Show me the philanthropy, the good works, the community service, and I got nothing. None of that’s going on.”

We asked UC Santa Cruz for a response to our story, and they did address some of the issues we’ve raised.

A spokesman wrote in an email that the university never publicly linked Alex Beletsis’s death to the dismissal of the fraternity out of respect for the privacy of the family. He also said that the delay in communicating with Daphne Beletsis was due to the active investigation.

As for why it took eight months to turn over records, he said they try to respond to requests in a timely manner.

The gender gap

The year before Alex died, another 18-year-old fraternity pledge died, this time at Louisiana State University. Max Gruver had been put through a Phi Delta Theta fraternity hazing ritual called “Bible Study,” where pledges had to chug alcohol if they gave the wrong answer to trivia questions.

Gruver’s blood alcohol level was almost .5, it’s a fatal dose for most people. This was also attorney Doug Fierberg’s case, and it’s important to mention because of what Fierberg uncovered at LSU – once again thanks to open records requests.

“Where the instances of fraternity hazing and often in dangerous circumstances were extremely frequent at the university, but the university’s response to those incidents was, at best, lax and, most accurately, unserious, not significant, irrelevant,” Fierberg said. “And students were given a pat on the back and nothing serious happened to them. And the converse was true for sororities, where there were certain incidents that were by no means life-threatening, but yet they were responded to by LSU with the harshest means necessary.”

Why?

“There’s a lot of individuals that believe that boys will be boys,” he said. “And everything that’s good in a male world is not to be completely fooled around with. And fraternities have a very strong influence at certain campuses. They have very active alumni, they support the school programs actively and stay in close contact with the university, contribute to the university and are regularly cheerleaders for the university long after they’ve left.”

As alumni, Greeks give back approximately 75 percent of all money that is donated to universities, which is a hugely significant number.

“Big institutions don’t want to deal with it because you’re starting to deal with a very influential and powerful alumni base that doesn’t want their chapter to be gone for three to five years because something happens,” Kimbrough said. “And I know for a fact that’s held over the head of people so, you’re juggling a lot of different constituencies.”

Structural faults

When Kimbrough said that, I immediately thought of a man named David Easlick. I first met Easlick in 2015 when a female student died after a party at the Rutgers University DKE frat house. I was a CNN correspondent and I talked to Easlick about the fraternity, which he had been the national president of for about 25 years.

DKE is probably best known for having six United States presidents as members. But in 1998, Easlick got a call in the middle of the night that a pledge at the University of Washington named John LaDuca had hanged himself from a sprinkler pipe in his bedroom after a weeklong initiation ceremony called “Hell Seek.”

And it was totally covered up by the undergraduates and the alumni that he’d been hazed within an inch of his life,” Easlick said. “And he’d been hazed by a Canadian member of our board who was a lawyer who was also later arrested for child abuse and he had planned the entire initiation. And this thing was totally covered up from me.”

Easlick says that it was a turning point for him, and he wanted to implement change that would make sure it would never happen again.

“We would bring up at every convention, you know, who was the person who had the most impact on the fraternity ever,” he said. “People would say various presidents of the United States and stuff. And I would say, no, it was John LaDuca.”

But his one-man crusade was short-lived.

“I went to a birthday party for the chairman of our foundation and I went inside and they asked me to go outside and a bunch of drunks basically who were on a board of directors said, “You’re fired and go home. And that was, that was the end of me.

“The problem with alumni members of the fraternities is basically: They were all hazed, and they do remember all that hazing, and it’s now seen through a backward lens that, ‘Oh, wasn’t that fun?’ Although it was really not fun,” Easlisk said.

Easlick now works as an expert witness for fraternity misconduct that end up in court. But the more I’ve watched these cases meander through the justice system, the more I’ve realized that the nature and relationship between the national fraternities, local chapters and universities is a complicated legal entanglement.

“It does make it complicated. And it has many more layers than that. So universities, while they recognize fraternities, they seek to distance themselves from the harm they cause in recognition agreements or in other principles of law,” Fierberg said. “And then you have national fraternities that have housing corporations, that own the real estate that the chapter may operate out of. You have the chapter…it’s engineered in this way to be a so-called separate legal entity. So, there are a lot of roadblocks that govern how the law is going to respond to a particular incident and any given weekend. And from our perspective, the fraternities have managed it and engineered it this way, in part to reduce the potential liability.”

So when you see local chapter shut down after misconduct – often that’s not entirelyhonorable. It’s an attempt to shield from litigation.

“The national fraternity can come in afterwards and with the wave of a wand, make it disappear and then argue that the thing that may have been involved in causing this injury and death is no longer viable and around to be sued or sue,” Fierberg said. “And all of that from a puppeteer perspective is controlled by the national fraternity, from the outset as to how the local chapter is set up.”

In a lot of cases, this has worked to minimize liability. Daphne Beletsis wants to change that.

“The Beletsis case is the first case in this country ever to go after the actual engineered structure of the fraternity system from the way a national is incorporated to the manner in which it oversees and incorporates housing corporations, and then all the way down to the chapter level,” Fierberg said. “These are false differences and that each one of these organizations is part of the same organization and an alter ego of the fraternity organization in general. And that the law should not recognize distinct differences between these three entities because to do so only fraudulently protects the organization itself. And in the Beletsis lawsuit, we argue that all of that is a sham.”

The strength of privacy

There is a federal privacy law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – commonly, it’s known as FERPA – which fiver universities cited as the reason they would not share records with us. FERPA is chaotic in nature, meaning that often its interpreted in different ways by different schools. This is one of those examples.

FERPA is the reason that Daphne Beletsis still hasn’t seen the entirety of the investigative report into what happened to her son. According to UC Santa Cruz, the privacy interest of the people involved in their son’s death outweighs her interest in knowing what the university found about how her son died.

This is not that uncommon. Even in states where disciplinary information is required to be provided by law, names are still redacted.

“I feel like hazing laws in particular, within the states, need to go after the individuals more,” said Gary Wiser, the director of fraternity and sorority life at Clemson. “Because if the individuals are not held accountable and they’re still allowed to be students at the university, I don’t really feel like that goes far enough. You can suspend a fraternity or sorority or any type of student organization from a campus, but … If the individuals that were involved in the incident aren’t held accountable, then they’re still members of a campus community. We need to do a better job at holding the individuals accountable.”

It is possible that the people responsible for harmful behavior at fraternities are seeing disciplinary charges for that conduct. But it’s also possible that they’re not. It’s not a stretch to assume that frequently that punishment is absorbed by the fraternity itself. The reality is that we will never know, because colleges have constructed this off-the-books secret justice system that leaves behind very little paper trail. And since the majority of fraternity members in the United States are white, the lack of individual accountability highlights racial disparities that are seldom discussed.

It also begs the question of “why?” If the mission is to keep these organizations safe, why aren’t the national chapters posting misconduct? Wouldn’t that help all the people who are pledging for the right reasons make better decisions?

I posed this question to Jud Horras, the president of the North American Interfraternity Council. Jud declined to do an interview with us to talk about the data that we collected. In an email, his spokesperson told me that Horras supports a bill that would force universities to make all of these misconduct records public. It’s called the “End All Hazing Act.” But it’s been stalled in a congressional committee for more than a year.

So I asked him, in an email, why not instead force the Greek letter organizations to post this information? After all, these are private organizations, not bound by privacy laws like FERPA.

His answer is that hazing, and other misconduct, are campus-wide issues that extend beyond fraternities —  to athletics, marching bands, and other student groups. And so he believes this bill would be the best resource for parents and students.

David Easlick, the former president of DKE does not agree.

“The schools don’t necessarily have the information and the fraternities do,” Easlick said. “The fraternities can tell you everything that you want to know. You want a national perspective. You want somebody who’s going to join SAE or DKE or whatever, they’d like know what’s the national reputation? Have they done anything to combat hazing? Have they had any significant hazing cases? And those records are totally available because the two insurance companies that insure the fraternities are both owned by the national fraternities. One is owned by seven national fraternities.

“And then the other one is the fraternity risk management trust. And that’s owned by 37 fraternities and that has millions of dollars in it. But they keep track of every incident and they keep the ones that don’t get any attention and the ones that maybe don’t even get to the school. … And so they have 100% of this information available, it could be disclosed, it could be published, and it could be out there. But, of course, I don’t think, as an insurance company, they’re going to do it, and then I know as a national, they don’t want it.”

‘It’s very frustrating’

The focus of this season of Why Don’t We Know is secrecy in education, and as you listen, you are going to hear us exploring a lot of different topics that relate back to reasons why we can’t get certain information. This issue, of Greek organization misconduct, touches on so many of those topics.

It touches on the faulty structures, weak laws, cultural problems, a lack of data, and also, something else that we sadly see repeating throughout the season: a lack willingness to make meaningful progress.

“These are public institutions that have a serious health problem on their campus,” Fierberg said. “One of the single strongest predictors of binge drinking is fraternity membership. And the fact that with so many students hurt or killed or sexually assaulted in this system, the idea that there would be hurdles to getting access to the accurate information about those risks is on some level criminal or gross neglect because the universities haven’t focused on it, or they’ve decided that it’s not important enough.

“Then you’ve got people looking at policy changes that are only half informed or one-third informed, or certainly not fully informed. It is, in fact, true that fraternities are extremely dangerous on college campuses around the country, and that the public would not have accurate information about that is a crime shame after this many decades of kids dying and getting hurt and sexually assaulted. The universities don’t want to have these types of blemishes on their record with respect to the alcohol drug misuse and the Greek system. But again, these are conscious choices to keep the public in the dark.”

Imagine losing a kid and then running into these brick walls while you’re just trying to figure out what happened.

“Well, I think, you’re right, you’re hitting the nail on the head because any parent that loses a child is fairly desperate to understand why and how that happened. And so to be met, both with fraternity, not only stonewalling, but blatant dishonesty, lack of cooperation but also radio silence from the university. You know, it is very frustrating,” Daphne Beletsis said. “I don’t know, is it just so valuable to be able to advertise that you have a Greek system? Is that a draw for kids that you put up with this kind of risky behavior? I frankly, I was shocked, you know, I was shocked by what I read that it would be going on in this day and age with this age kids. Extreme, racist, sexist, homophobic taunts in the hazing process. Just drunk drinking to a stupor. Just stuff I guess, like I said, I was too naive.

“I think for the fraternity to get away with this kind of conduct is morally repugnant. We’re just willing to lose young people every year for what? The fraternity sits back and collects $400 a quarter per member and takes no steps to make sure that the fraternity is operating in a safe way? So my goal is really simple. The alternative doing nothing was a [inaudible 00:33:00] to me. I would like to see the fraternity change. I’d like to see fraternity culture change, and that’s my goal.”

Additional reporting by Jessica Curbelo and Tori Whidden