When I wrote my post last week titled Don’t Let Kappa Sigma Sweep Chad Meredith’s Hazing Death Under the Rug, I was unsure of the response I would receive once I pushed publish. I doubted anyone would even read the story since it was my first post on my self-publishing blog created for a class I recently enrolled in. There are 14 students in the class. Some people praised my reporting and others condemned it. My main question from readers was what motivated me to write it –although it was not always worded so amicably.
The Miami Hurricane posted Saturday on its Opinion page an article against my retelling of Chad Meredith’s hazing death in 2001: Give the new guys a chance, don’t hold on to Kappa Sigma’s past, author Jordan Coyne claims. Coyne, a sister of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and a journalism major at UM, writes she was “instantly enraged” after reading my blog. And throughout the post her words connote that rage, but I can’t understand the reason for it.
It leaves a sour taste in my mouth to know that The Miami Hurricane, known for breaking news and defending student’s First Amendment right to Free Speech, would bash my factual report of a student death with a complete disregard to portray my story correctly: I was never contacted for clarification, I was incorrectly quoted, readers were not given the proper context of my blog, or a way to read my post and form an opinion for themselves. I did not use the term ‘hazing’ lightly, but after doing proper research, to say that I “unjustly” called it hazing, and that Meredith’s death was not hazing, is just not true. Even if this was just on the Opinion page, opinions are important too. My story, however, is not an opinion. But the author’s opinion I gathered is that I shouldn’t have mentioned the incident at all, even if everything I reported was true.
I didn’t write the post to attack anyone. I wrote the post to bring to light the untimely hazing death of a fellow ‘Cane as the fraternity found responsible for his death (Meredith v. Kappa Sigma Memorial Foundation) returns to campus this semester. Chad Meredith died in 2001, and as most people on campus now were too young to remember the incident, I wrote about it in Meredith’s memory.
My post is accurate and I link to sources to back up my claims. While I harmlessly mock frat boy stereotypes, my post does not “essentially denounce Kappa Sigma’s re-colonization on campus” as the author states. It is a story about a student who died.
I explained in a tweet to the author that I personally do not agree with the idea of a “frat reset button” (or, better put without the 140 character limitation, that a frat can leave for four years, and once all brothers in it have left, return like nothing happened). However, I never mention that value-judgment in my post. When I tweeted that in response to a comment she tweeted at me in response to my post, I was not informed she was writing a post about it, or that I would be quoted. And in her post she did not explain that I referred to it as a frat reset button on Twitter and not in my story. In fact, in that same tweet, I even say “it’s not the current chpt I’m criticizing,” but the author did not include that part and insists that I “denonuce Kappa Sigma’s re-colonization efforts.” She also did not reach out to me for comment or clarification.
I have to address the misconceptions the author expresses about my post on the Miami Hurricane’s website since she does not link to my post to give readers the opportunity to read my blog and form their own conclusions. She states:
Although the author later goes on to explain that Meredith was in no way forced to complete the task, she insists on calling it a hazing event. Given the stigma behind the word “hazing,” this is an unjust attack on the fraternity’s principles and practices.
I never once say in my post that Meredith “was in no way forced to complete the task.” The task, of course, being to swim across Lake Osceola during a hurricane warning. I do explain that another brother –NOT the president that suggested the swim and was later found responsible for Meredith’s death– whispered to Meredith that he did not have to swim across if he did not want to.
Hazing expert, professor Hank Nuwer, explains in his book, Writes of Passage:
An impressionable person is unlikely to reject a group by quitting, even if he or she is forced to participate in hazing in order to become a member. Potential new members who come aboard because someone in the group urged them to give pledging a try will probably not report hazing lest they lose the satisfying feeling they are part of something large and worthwhile.
When someone is hazed, he or she is not forced with a gun to his or her head to oblige. Instead the person does feel a societal pressure to fit in with a group and act accordingly. In my post, I go on to quote Meredith’s father in a deposition saying that his son told him before his death that “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.” But the author does not mention that.
According to the University of Miami student handbook on page 43 hazing is defined as:
An action or situation created on or off campus which recklessly or intentionally harms, damages, or endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for the purposes, including, but not limited to, initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization operating within the University of Miami.
On Friday, I met with the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Judicial Affairs, Dr. Tony Lake. He verified that the University of Miami did its own internal investigation and found that Montgomery and May did haze Meredith. A Miami-Dade county jury agreed too and awarded Meredith’s parents $14 million in a wrongful death suit.
In the past decade alone, Pi Kappa Alpha, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Lambda Chi Alpha and Zeta Beta Tau have all had their charters suspended for varying lengths of time. The causes of these suspensions range from sexual assault to drugs and alcohol to theft.
But what difference does it make? Today, all five of these organizations are on campus as contributing members of the Greek community.
The admirable efforts of these groups of men and women should not be overshadowed by the actions of the screwballs that came before them.
I will admit that this conclusion left me, well, instantly enraged. And I’m sure Chad Meredith’s family will agree too. An 18-year-old pledge drowning in the company of his soon-to-be frat brothers does make a difference, a huge difference. Other frats on campus have also been suspended for drugs and alcohol and theft, and while those are serious offenses too, the hazing death of a student is in a completely different category.
I cringe when she referred to these men as screwballs because the word suggests that the men who committed the “sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, and theft” that led to the aforementioned frat’s suspensions are harmless antics, and redeemable. Montgomery and May and the rest of Kappa Sigma Fraternity at the time were allowed to continue with their lives and put the incident behind them, Chad Meredith and his family could not.
The author claims that the admirable philanthropic efforts of fraternities and sororities “should not be overshadowed by the actions of the screwballs that came before them.” But Chad Meredith’s hazing death was not “a series of mishaps” as the author reports and Montgomery and May were found responsible for his death and no amount of philanthropic fundraising and settlement money can justify it or bring him back.
To give Kappa Sigma’s new chapter “a chance” does not imply that we can’t “hold on to their past”, or really, remember Meredith’s death. The two are not mutually exclusive. To not hold on to Kappa Sigma’s past would dismiss their 75 year legacy on our campus. But before we celebrate their anniversary, it’s crucial to look back objectively, even if that means accepting an irreparable blemish on their group identity and using it to raise awareness about hazing.
Even though I disagree with the Miami Hurricane author, I can appreciate her post because it furthers my main motivation to write about the incident in the first place: to remember Meredith and the injustices surrounding his death (even if she would rather it swept under the rug too).
Note: I will be posting about my meeting with Dean Lake and the reasons for Kappa Sigma’s expulsion in 2009 soon. I also have an interview scheduled with the Kappa Sigma Executive Director for 11 a.m. Monday morning and will continue to blog about my findings.