Two weeks ago, reflecting on controversies at some area high schools, we condemned the common view of hazing as a harmless tradition that only occasionally gets out of hand. As if to punctuate that message, the issue assumed broader and even more foreboding dimensions this week as authorities filed charges in the November hazing death of a Northern Illinois University fraternity pledge from Palatine.
For the survivors as well as the victim in this case, there is a cruel, cruel irony. The people who contributed to the alcohol binge that killed David Bogenberger did not want him to die. They wanted him to be their lifelong friend. Their brother. Someone who years from now they may count on for a helping hand -- or provide one to. Someone with whom they would build the lifelong memories of being young and newly independent.
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No doubt the heart of each of these young men is now filled with a lifetime's worth of regret. And the lives of David's family and friends have been forever derailed.
So, first, it bears repeating: Hazing is dangerous. It is not a harmless tradition. It does not strengthen an individual or group.
Now, introduce alcohol into the mix for young people, and, as David's parents said, and you have the recipe for tragedy. Indeed, the fraternity that Bogenberger intended to join, Pi Kappa Alpha, recognizes in its bylaws the threat not only of hazing but of any games glorifying drunkenness. Its rules explicitly forbid chapters from even tolerating drinking games at chapter-sponsored events.
Of course, these days no one is naive about the issues involving alcohol and substance abuse on college campuses. But the tragedy that claimed the life of David Bogenberger reinforces the notion that we must also not be naive about the potential for and danger of life-altering excess involving these behaviors.
For David's death, there will be blame enough to go around over time, and all that must be left to be sorted out according to the rules of law and fraternity and university standards. But there is something here for us to acknowledge as a culture as well. When the issues settle and the bitter sting of proximity subsides, a key message must become fixed in our collective psyche. David's parents put it simply: "Alcohol-involved hazing and initiation must end."
Indeed, hazing of all types must be recognized for the harmful threat that it is.
Because they didn't see that, 22 men who would have been lifelong brothers of David Bogenberger will not have him to turn to years from now. They will not celebrate graduation with him. They will not toast his wedding, nor he theirs. They have been stripped of his fellowship and the memories he would have helped them create.
It is a cruel consequence of an activity too often cloaked in the ironic disguise of harmless fun.