Governor Edwards, university leaders discuss anti-hazing initiatives

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA / WGMB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards touts the anti-hazing policies across Louisiana’s university systems, but admits challenges in getting some college fraternities to follow the rules.

The governor on Thursday welcomed the state’s higher education commissioner and the presidents of Louisiana State University, the University of Louisiana, Southern University and the Community and Technical College to his executive mansion. Last month, each public system sent Edwards reviews of their anti-hazing policies.

"Hazing is not some innocent activity. It’s not a rite of passage, it’s actually illegal,” Edwards said. "We have an obligation to reassure parents from across the country and obviously right here in Louisiana, and the students themselves, that those students can come to Louisiana and get their higher education in a safe environment.”

The state’s emphasis on campus safety follows the death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver. The freshman, who sought to join LSU’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter, died in September with a blood-alcohol level more than six times the legal limit for driving, after a night of drinking.

"One of the saddest things in the world is to have a child go to college, to enter into a phase of his or her life that should be exciting, then that individual never transitions into adulthood, because a life was cut short by hazing,” the governor said.

Ten people have been arrested in connected with Gruver’s death, with the LSU’s Phi Delta Theta branch now shuttered. In the weeks after the incident, school officials banned parties and tailgating. Such activities are now permitted again, but with renewed scrutiny. Since mid-September, three other Greek organizations at LSU have been suspended, including two just this week.

"This isn't about eradicating our Greeks, because they do way too many good things that rarely gets published. That's the majority of what our Greeks, our fraternities and sororities do,” said Alexander. “But this is about making them stronger and safer.”

Fraternities at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have also faced recent controversy. Michael Gallagher Jr. is suing the school’s Kappa Sigma chapter, claiming members kept him awake for three days last November, before he fell asleep while driving a car that struck and killed 23-year-old student Rustam Nizamutdinov.

Gallagher claims university officials knew or should have known about the fraternity’s pattern of hazing. Nizamutdinov’s mother sued the chapter in September.

"We have added system resources to ensure that students have avenues to report anonymously issues, especially around hazing, and that our universities will respond swiftly, comprehensively and severely when they arise,” said UL President Jim Henderson.

Since mid-September, UL has suspended four fraternities.

Edwards added that battles over hazing may recur, as students come and go. He urged students, faculty advisors, alumni and parents to instill responsibility regarding drugs and alcohol.

"This is about policies, but this is also about having an awareness of those policies that leads to a culture change,” said Edwards.

A task force on Greek life at LSU is set to release its anti-hazing policy recommendations by January 30.

 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


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