At many fraternities, the protocol in the event of the death of a member advises brothers to leave family notification to the police, the university, or medical professionals; to lock the deceased’s door; and to have boxes available for his family. (Philip Heying)
In September, a student at Washington State fell down a flight of stairs in the Delta Chi house and was rendered unconscious; a University of Minnesota student was hospitalized after falling off a second-floor balcony of the Phi Kappa Psi house; a Northwestern student was listed in critical condition after falling out of a third-floor window of the Phi Gamma Delta house; and an MIT student injured his head and genitals after falling through a skylight at the Phi Sigma Kappa house and landing some 40 feet below.
These falls, of course, are in addition to the many other kinds of havoc and tragedy associated with fraternities. On the Palouse, such incidents include the death of 18-year-old Joseph Wiederrick, a University of Idaho freshman who had made the dean’s list his first semester, and who had plans to become an architect. He had attended a party at SAE (of which he was not a member) and then wandered, apparently drunk and lost, for five miles before freezing to death under a bridge. Vierstra, who, while visiting Sigma Chi over the University of Idaho’s homecoming weekend, raped an 18-year-old freshman in the bushes outside the house. (He is appealing the decision.)
The notion that fraternities are target defendants did not hold true in my investigation. College students can (and do) fall out of just about any kind of residence, of course. But during the period of time under consideration, serious falls from fraternity houses on the two Palouse campuses far outnumbered those from other types of student residences, including privately owned apartments occupied by students. I began to view Amanda Andaverde’s situation in a new light. Why are so many colleges allowing students to live and party in such unsafe locations? And why do the lawsuits against fraternities for this kind of serious injury and death-so predictable and so preventable-have such a hard time getting traction? The answers lie in the recent history of fraternities and the colleges and universities that host them.
The Hazards of Duke
“With a social scene dominated by fraternities and sororities (a way of life consisting of ardent partying and hooking up, offset by spurts of busywork composing angry letters to campus newspapers and taking online alcohol-education classes), . [Duke] is a university whose thoughtful students are overshadowed by its voraciously self-centered ones.”
They also include the conviction of Jesse M
What all of these lawsuits ultimately concern is a crucially important question in higher education, one that legal scholars have been grappling with for the past half century. This question is perhaps most elegantly expressed in the subtitle of Robert D. Bickel and Peter F. Lake’s authoritative 1999 book on the subject, The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University: Who Assumes the Risks of College Life?
The answer to this question has been steadily evolving ever since the 1960s, when dramatic changes took place on American campuses, changes that affected both a university’s ability to control student behavior and the status of fraternities in the undergraduate firmament. During this period of student unrest, the fraternities-long the unquestioned leaders in the area of sabotaging or ignoring the patriarchal control of school administrators-became the exact opposite: representatives of the very status quo the new activists sought to overthrow. Suddenly their beer bashes and sorority mixers, their panty raids and obsession with the big game, seemed impossibly reactionary when compared with the mind-altering drugs being sampled in off-campus apartments where sexual liberation was being born and the Little Red Book proved, if nothing else, a fantastic coaster for a leaky bong.