Greek Life

Don’t Let Kappa Sigma Sweep Chad Meredith’s Hazing Death Under the Rug

ImageKappa Sigma Fraternity will return to the University of Miami’s lush Coral Gables campus to recruit backward-capped bros with the rest of the Greek alphabet this Spring. After a four year ban, their Facebook page shows smiling young men in pastel tanks and boat shoes participating in sorority fundraisers and charity events. Not nearly as provocative as FIU’s recent Pi Kappa Alpha Facebook debacle, Kappa Sigma’s Epsilon-Beta chapter has experienced its fair share of mischief over the years. Beneath the wholesome grins of Kappa Sig’s fresh-faced recruits is a litany of charges that led to the frat’s expulsion in 2009.

Four years have passed and the brothers who were part of the frat graduated or dropped out. It’s one thing to want to turn over a new leaf in the wake of alcohol violations and unregistered parties,  but we will never forget the hazing death of Chad Meredith and neither should you.

If Chad Meredith were alive today, he would be 30 years old and would probably reminisce about the intoxicated antics of his college days. If he had made it across, he would probably recount to his wide-eyed children that time he swam across Lake Osceola with his soon-to-be fraternity brothers during a hurricane warning. But on November 5th, 2001, the 18-year-old Meredith drowned just three months after arriving at the University of Miami. He was 34 feet from the shore. His blood-alcohol was 0.13.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Meredith was a top baseball athlete and very popular. He was fondly remembered by his floor at Mahoney Residential College for being polite and sweet. At home, his family was known to be tight-knit and two years after his death would still visit his grave every day. He had two older twin sisters and was especially close to his then six-year-old niece, Alexa. “That’s the same moon my Uncle Chad is looking at,” Alexa would say pointing to the night sky after her uncle’s untimely passing according to The Miami Hurricane.

After arriving on campus, Meredith soon befriended Kappa Sigma fraternity president Travis Montgomery (who would also be swimming in the lake that ill-fated night). Both were from Indianapolis and even worked at the same country club over the summer. The pair had plenty to talk about and Meredith was at the frat house every night of the week and quickly met the rest of the brothers.

During recruitment, Meredith was one of only nine in Kappa Sigma’s pledge group. Montgomery felt pressure from alumni about the low numbers, but would bring Meredith to dinner with them to assure everyone that the young men joining the frat were of character. “Afterwards one of [the alumni] told me, ‘If the other pledges are half as good as this one, we’ll be fine,” Montgomery told The Miami Hurricane.

Classes were cancelled on November 5th, 2001 because of a hurricane warning. Before dawn, Chad Meredith had attended a Ludacris concert and an off-campus party with his soon-to-be fraternity brothers Travis Montgomery, David May, and Timothy Williamson. Back at the frat house, the young men drank more beer when Montgomery suggested they swim the 437 feet across Lake Osceola. He had done it when he was a pledge, Montgomery assured the bunch.

Another pledge had been asked to swim too, but declined. On the walk from the frat house on San Amaro drive to the lake’s shore, Williamson whispered to Meredith that he didn’t have to swim if he didn’t want to. But Meredith put down his 32 ounce can of beer –that one of the older brothers provided to the underaged Meredith– and stripped to his boxers and dived into the cold, dark water with Montgomery and May.

Not quite halfway across the lake, Meredith began to yell for help. May was 15 feet away from Meredith but swam to shore assuming Montgomery would help the flailing pledge. Police divers recovered Meredith’s body five hours later.

“‘They tell you, you don’t have to do it, but you know that you’ve got to do it. You’re supposed to do it,’ ” Chad Meredith’s father, William Meredith, said his son told him about hazing before his death in a deposition according to the Palm Beach Post.

In February 2004, a Miami-Dade county jury awarded $14 million of Kappa Sigma’s insurance policy to Meredith’s family in their wrongful death suit. Defendants Montgomery and May claim that the swim was not an initiation rite and unrelated to the fraternity.

“Presidents of fraternities don’t haze themselves,” defense attorney Donald Hardeman argued. “He didn’t swim the lake because he was a pledge. Nobody made him do it.”

According to the New York Times, Indiana professor Hank Nuwer, who has written four books on hazing, said in 2012 that 104 students have died in hazing-related incidents since 1970. But universities and fraternities, hoping to quiet the bad PR drama, dismiss these tragedies: despite the University of Miami’s zero-tolerance on hazing, the Kappa Sigma fraternity remained on campus for seven more years, Montgomery and May were not expelled nor faced criminal charges. The only noticeable change are the “Swimming in the lake prohibited” signs posted around the lake’s perimeter (they’re still there today).

On January 31, 2009, UM’s Kappa Sigma frat was revoked by the national organization (and not the university) for “social and alcohol violations contrary to their code of conduct.” While the ruling was unrelated to Meredith’s death and hazing, it did mark the end of a grisly chapter of a frat on a downward spiral.

“We will wait until the landscape has changed,” then executive director of Kappa Sigma Mitchell Wilson told The Miami Hurricane. “It will be after everyone that is currently a member graduates so we can get a fresh start.”

This spring, Kappa Sigma returns to recruit more young men who aren’t versed in the frat’s hazing history. After all, freshman now were only six –the same age as Meredith’s niece Alexa– in 2001 when Meredith died.

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Let Kappa Sigma Sweep Chad Meredith’s Hazing Death Under the Rug

  1. “During recruitment, Meredith was one of only nine pledges to rush with Kappa Sigma.”

    I don’t really understand what you meant to say here… pledging, bidding, and rushing are three TOTALLY different things. Look those up before you write a paper about a Fraternity and its “hazing” practices.

    • Thanks Joseph! You’re right. I looked into it and while I was referring to the Miami Hurricane article from 2001, I meant to say that the pledge group was unusually small with only 9 pledges in it, not that only 9 men rushed. I’ll update my post now.

  2. This is ridiculous. The current brotherhood has absolutely no ties to these events of the past; to continue to hold it over their heads is backwards, immature, and effectively a groundless argument.

    • Hello Common Sense! Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m not “hold[ing] it over their heads” but telling a story to everyone who cares to read my blog about a student death that has become timely as the frat returns to campus. I have tried to be responsible in my reporting and if the post came across as “backwards”, “immature” and “groundless” well that certainly was not the intention.

  3. Pingback: Miami Hurricane Opinion on my Chad Meredith Post: “But what difference does it make?” | Tropical Disturbance

  4. Nobody is saying sweep this under the rug, especially not the new founding fathers of the Epsilon-Beta chapter, as your accusatory title suggests. It’s actually quite the opposite. We would never ignore our history, even a period as dark as that. Those years serve as an important reminder of what we never want to become. Every day we strive to make a positive impact on campus, in our community, and in each others personal lives. You lash out at Kappa Sigma as though you have a personal vendetta against them and all greek life. Why is it so bad that a fraternity* (please have some respect and don’t refer to us as a frat in an article) be able to hit the reset button? You would deprive hundreds of young men from a meaningful, positive, professional, and rewarding life experience because an unrelated accident 12 years ago?

    You throw around the term “hazing” a lot despite the fact that this was not a hazing incident. It was three inebriated young men who decided to go for a swim. Young kids do stupid stuff all the time. Just look at all the kids overdosing on party drugs at concerts these days. It had zero implications on Meredith’s status as a pledge nor whether he would be initiated or not. An article published in TMH in January states “Miami-dade police ruled out hazing two days after the incident.”

    The current assistant dean of students Steven Priepke is quoted in the same article saying “Students who will be joining the chapter are a special brand of entrepreneurs. They want to build something new. They don’t really look for anything pre-existing.” Note that this is the same Steven Priepke who was Meredith’s RA (resident assistant) at the time he drowned.

    As I said in the beginning of my comment, nobody is trying to sweep this under the rug. It happened 12 years ago. My question for you is why you are trying to cast such a negative light on the current group of young men by dragging old skeletons out of the closet? In your opening paragraph you write “Beneath the wholesome grins of Kappa Sig’s fresh-faced recruits is a litany of charges that led to the frat’s expulsion in 2009.” Are you kidding me? There are zero charges behind those “fresh-faced recruits”. They have done nothing but good things so far.

    Of course we should remember his death. And use it as a lesson for the future. But that doesn’t mean you go on a negative tirade about the new chapter and the Fraternity as a whole 12 years later. You could have contacted the new brothers and learned about them before making accusations. He should be remembered, but not in the negative light that you cast him in.

    The article I referenced can be found here: http://www.themiamihurricane.com/2013/01/23/kappa-sigma-returns-for-75th-anniversary/

    • This was really insightful and I really appreciate the feedback and the time you took to read my post and then write a well-worded and logical comment.

      Now, I’m not writing this post as a negative tirade. And the litany of charges I was referring to was the unregistered parties that got the fraternity revoked in 2009 (I was not saying that the new recruits had charges). As Kappa Sigma celebrates it’s 75th anniversary and comes back to campus, I wrote this to remind everyone of hazing and not to dismiss Meredith’s death. I wrote it because I felt that the national organization thought they could pull the fraternity for four years and wait until all the old brothers graduated and start fresh and basically sweep its “dark times” under the rug. I know the new brothers have nothing to do with this, and in my post I hoped it would be the national organization not the new brothers that readers criticized.

      The fact that we are even having this debate is good. And know I didn’t use the term hazing lightly. I checked with the deans, and they confirmed Montgomery and May did haze Meredith. I tried to be accurate in my reporting and not make any egregious claims while bringing awareness back to hazing and Meredith’s memory.

  5. Great post. Chad was a dear friend to me for many years and I’m so happy to see his name still being brought up after so many years. Thank you for keeping his story alive. He is very remembered today and every day.

  6. The National Organization does anything but sweep this situation under the rug. All Kappa Sigma chapters across the country are shown a video recounting the exact story of Chad and his unfortunate death. This entire article is written in a demeaning tone with clearly very little research put into it. The overall tone and therefore message of the article is shaming the new members of Kappa Sigma (who have nothing to do with this unfortunate situation) instead of paying tribute to someone who was taken from us too early. It is a sad truth that there are many college students that die due to alcohol and drug intoxication but Greek life is not to blame. College students sometimes make bad decisions when intoxicated and the letters that may or may not be on their chest have nothing to do with that decision.

    • The tone was not meant to be demeaning or shaming. Chad Meredith’s death is somewhat linked to his intoxication, but the deans, the wrongful death suit, even the Chad Meredith law, all say it was hazing. I did plenty of research for this article: I spoke to the deans and read everything related to the case I could get my hands on.

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