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Hank Nuwer

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Books
· Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey

· The Hazing Reader


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· The Broken Pledge


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· No Runs, No Hits, No Errors


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· Kirkus Review

· Professor Writes One-Man Play on Hazing

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Books by Hank Nuwer
Wrongs of Passage
by Hank Nuwer   

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Books by Hank Nuwer - View all
· Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey
· The Hazing Reader

Category: 

Education/Training

Publisher:  Indiana University Press ISBN-10:  025321498X Type:  Non-Fiction
Pages: 

360

Copyright:  2001 ISBN-13:  9780253214980


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Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Education, Sept, 2000 by Colleen Roach



Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing, and Binge Drinking Hank Nuwer (Indiana University Press, 1999; 2001) Reviewed by Colleen Roach

College administrators receive failing grades in Wrongs of Passage, an alarming book about young people literally dying to belong to Greek organizations on campuses around the country.

The author is no stranger to the topic. Nuwer's first book on the subject, titled Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing (Longstreet), was published in 1990. His latest work goes into greater detail about the relationship between alcohol abuse and the deadly shenanigans that take place at fraternities, sororities, and other college social clubs.

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Nuwer knows that the best way to move people to action is to tell the human stories behind the statistics of young people who died before their time. Photos of smiling students are interspersed throughout the book, along with the heart-wrenching words of families still in mourning.

But there are no wasted emotions in this book. On the contrary, Wrongs of Passage stops just short of overwhelming readers with hard data and research on the all too often lethal combination of hazing and binge drinking at Greek organizations. One blunt statistic is, in a sense, the raison d'etre of the author's work: Every year since 1970, at least one fraternity or sorority member, or pledge, has died as a result of alcohol abuse or hazing.

Other statistics in the book are equally compelling. Fraternity members consume an average of almost three times as many drinks per week as non-fraternity males. Sorority members drink almost twice as many alcoholic beverages per week as non-sorority females. A 1998 report from the School of Public Health at Harvard indicated that four out of five fraternity and sorority members identify themselves as binge drinkers. The director of the study, interviewed by the author in early 1999, stated that binge drinkers are consuming more alcohol than ever. (Ironically, the first documented case of hazing in this country took place at Harvard in 1657. Harvard's administration fined two students for inflicting "abuse"--the term "hazing" was not then used--on two of their peers.)

The book also does a good job of alerting people to the sexist behavior all too often fostered by fraternity life. Although very few women have died as a result of sorority excesses, many female college students have been subjected to predatory sexual advances when they walk through the doors of fraternity houses.

As Nuwer states in one chapter, fraternities "should join the rest of the world in developing a positive attitude toward women."

Although the book is written in a very clear, journalistic style, it is backed up by a scholarly--but accessible--historical perspective. Readers learn, for example, that Plato inveighed against hazing practices by young students in ancient times, and that the medieval university was rife with ribald drinking and horseplay. Nuwer traces the first hazing death in more recent times to 1838, when a student lost his life at Franklin Seminary in Kentucky. Although records with exact details of the incident were lost in a fire, the author quotes from a family history saying that the student's grieving parents refused to send any more of their children to the college.

The book's sociological perspective provides an overall context for understanding the role played by factors such as tradition and ritual in Greek social organizations as well as their resemblance to cults. Similarly, some of the social pressures, such as students' need to belong, peer pressure, and group loyalty, are examined. The author also keeps in mind the larger picture--data indicating that problem drinking among all students is a national trend.

One of the few deficiencies of the book is the absence of serious socio-logical inquiry as to why young people are consuming such enormous quantities of alcohol. What has happened in the country since the 1970s that has made alcohol--and drugs--so inviting to young people? Why aren't universities addressing the social malaise of recent generations of students?

Time and again, anguished parents interviewed by Nuwer criticize college authorities for doing very little to shut down problem fraternities or help in the prosecution of miscreants. Universities are usually not liable for fraternity deaths because of weak anti-hazing statutes at the state level, or because they deliberately adopt a "hands off" policy that allows them to escape responsibility for what occurs in Greek organizations. If a death occurs off campus, there is even less chance that a university can be attacked in court. (The fraternities themselves have often paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits involving deaths of young people.)

Nuwer accuses college authorities of a host of other failings. They are reluctant to divulge information to the media when tragedies occur. They operate internal judicial systems that have every interest in preserving the good name of the university. And they often stymie outside legal action by denying that hazing or alcohol abuse has occurred.

An indispensible book for every Greek house and for every parent about to send a student to college.

 From Kirkus Reviews
A grim, comprehensive (some might say turgid) expose, by hazing expert Nuwer (Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, 1990, etc.), of the continuing yet largely unacknowledged crisis of death and injury among fraternity and sorority pledges. The book usefully provides a solid overview of the cherished Greek customs and demands that have encouraged widespread hazing, as well as a depressing litany of recent deaths at prestigious universities such as Auburn University, University of Texas, University of Maryland, MIT, and Rutgers. The majority of incidents involve coerced drinking, a phenomenon that evinces an astonishing callousness towards the dangers of alcohol abuse among upper-class brothers who are rarely held accountable. Nuwer also sheds light on such ugly practices as the extreme violence practiced by some African-American frats (often unauthorized chapters) on their pledges, and rituals of branding or extraordinary humiliation which some outwardly prim, elite sororities pursue. Nuwer demonstrates the institutional responses to these incidents to be usually inadequate, centered more on spin than safety, and foolishly deferential to the overwhelmingly middle-class or affluent student-perpetrators. (The appendix, a detailed chronology of incidents showing these deaths skyrocketing from 1975 onward, is truly shocking.) Nuwer is authoritative and insightful on this subject; he even provides fascinating encapsulations of hazings roots in the 19th century and previously, and of the relatively innocent stunts of pre-1960 fraternal life. Unfortunately, the writing veers from tightly professional to mawkish, with detours into softened academese, which will make his book hard going for the suburban readers whose privileged children are, in fact, his sad subjects. Nuwer also undermines his examination by equating every bout of verbal abuse or brick-holding marathon with the worst excesses of compulsive drinking, violence, and degradation. Still, this makes clear that a good number of easily led youngsters incur grave risks in the supposedly supportive, fun environment of collegiate Greek life, and for its sustained examination of these rarely questioned traditions, Nuwers work is invaluable. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt
Hazing: A Chronology of Events


387 B.C. E. Plato commented on the savagery of young boys he observed. Fraternity historian Frederick Kershner considered Plato’s observations perhaps the earliest account of hazing-like behaviors.

371 St. Augustine at Carthage described hazing-like taunting and bullying of newcomers by the eversores or “Overturners.”

530 circa Justinian, the Byzantine emperor who codified Roman law, decreed that the hazing of first-year law students must be ended.

1340 The University of Paris forbade hazing under penalty of expulsion.

1441 Students at Avignon created the anti-hazing Fraternity of St. Sebastian. Hazing was rampant during the age of the rise of universities.

1657 In the American colonies, two Harvard College students paid small fines for hazing John Cotton and John Whiting. Later, a member of the class of 1684 was expelled for hazing but was readmitted after repenting.

1838 A family history describes the death of John Butler Groves (born October 31, 1819) in a hazing at Franklin Seminary in Kentucky.

1873 Cornell first-year student Mortimer N. Leggett died in a fall into a gorge while wandering with Kappa Alpha Society members. Fraternity hazing at this time was usually confined to stunts such as tossing students in blankets.


1900-1901 A U.S. House of Representatives committee investigated hazing at the United States Military Academy. Douglas MacArthur, then a plebe, testified. MacArthur failed to provide full disclosure of the savage hazing he endured.

1912 The death of first-year student Isaac Rand in a University of North Carolina frosh hazing led to the arrest of his hazers and a stern warning to the university president issued by the then-governor of the state.

1928 National Interfraternity Conference leaders issued a condemnation of hazing.

1940 A subrosa fraternity at the University of Missouri required a drinking session that led to the death of Hubert L. Spake, Jr. His was the first alcohol-related hazing death.

1959 After Kappa Sigma pledge Richard Swanson choked to death on a slab of liver, a filmmaker used the event as the inspiration for the fictional movie Fraternity Row.


1970 A female member of a national sorority died in an accident at Eastern Illinois University as pledges were dropping her off in the country far from campus. Her death marked the beginning of more than three decades of pledging-related and hazing deaths in fraternal organizations/athletic teams that were to occur every year through 2003.

1978 Eileen Stevens became a nationally recognized anti-hazing activist following her son’s death in a hazing at Alfred University. National Lampoon’s Animal House was released, portraying hazing as just one more comic misadventure in the Delta fraternity house.

1990 Although athletes had perished in fraternity initiations several times going back to 1928 at the University of Texas, the death of a rookie lacrosse club player Nick Haben at Western Illinois University was likely the first conducted by a non-fraternity athletic team. That year, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a national umbrella group of prestigious African-American fraternities and sororities, outlawed and condemned all acts of hazing.


1993 Dazed and Confused was released as a movie, depicting high school hazing as humorous.

1994 The death of Southeast Missouri State Kappa Alpha Psi pledge Michael Davis following a cruel pummeling in a hazing attracted widespread media coverage.

1998 An Ann Landers letter on hazing written by Rita Saucier about the death of her son Chad at Auburn University in a fraternity bottle exchange led to increasing awareness of how alcohol and hazing too often are inextricably linked.

1999 Alfred University researchers published a national “Initiation Rites and Athletics: A National Survey of NCAA Sports Teams” that estimated one in every five athletes was subjected to grossly unacceptable and potentially illegal hazing.

2004 The first hazing awareness uniting all groups and organizations was held on the campus of Purdue University.

2005 Wyoming began considering anti-hazing legislation. 44 states already have such laws. A hazing death at the University of Texas was alcohol-related. The death of University of Colorado and Cal State Chico pledges led to the start of foundations addressing hazing and alcohol concerns.

Professional Reviews
Kirkus Reviews
A grim, comprehensive (some might say turgid) expose, by hazing expert Nuwer (Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, 1990, etc.), of the continuing yet largely unacknowledged crisis of death and injury among fraternity and sorority pledges. The book usefully provides a solid overview of the cherished Greek customs and demands that have encouraged widespread hazing, as well as a depressing litany of recent deaths at prestigious universities such as Auburn University, University of Texas, University of Maryland, MIT, and Rutgers. The majority of incidents involve coerced drinking, a phenomenon that evinces an astonishing callousness towards the dangers of alcohol abuse among upper-class brothers who are rarely held accountable. Nuwer also sheds light on such ugly practices as the extreme violence practiced by some African-American frats (often unauthorized chapters) on their pledges, and rituals of branding or extraordinary humiliation which some outwardly prim, elite sororities pursue. Nuwer demonstrates the institutional responses to these incidents to be usually inadequate, centered more on spin than safety, and foolishly deferential to the overwhelmingly middle-class or affluent student-perpetrators. (The appendix, a detailed chronology of incidents showing these deaths skyrocketing from 1975 onward, is truly shocking.) Nuwer is authoritative and insightful on this subject; he even provides fascinating encapsulations of hazings roots in the 19th century and previously, and of the relatively innocent stunts of pre-1960 fraternal life. Unfortunately, the writing veers from tightly professional to mawkish, with detours into softened academese, which will make his book hard going for the suburban readers whose privileged children are, in fact, his sad subjects. Nuwer also undermines his examination by equating every bout of verbal abuse or brick-holding marathon with the worst excesses of compulsive drinking, violence, and degradation. Still, this makes clear that a good number of easily led youngsters incur grave risks in the supposedly supportive, fun environment of collegiate Greek life, and for its sustained examination of these rarely questioned traditions, Nuwers work is invaluable. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
Furthering the work he started with Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing (LJ 11/15/90), Nuwer continues telling the stories of those injured and killed by fraternity rituals, including beatings, mental abuse, overwhelming physical exercise, and the forced consumption of alcohol, food, and other substances. Nuwer studies the history of hazing in fraternities and other secret societies as well as efforts to stop it. He argues that we need to control the Greek system but also non-Greek organizations that employ similar, sometimes deadly, hazing practices. Nuwer suggests how to remove hazing from campuses and to crack down on offenders. Extremely well researched, with lots of interviews with victims of hazing and the parents of those who have died, this book belongs not only in all academic libraries but also in the offices of student activity coordinators throughout the United States. Public libraries may wish to obtain it as well.ADanna C. Bell-Russel, Library of Congress



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