The parents of Nolan Burch, a dead Western Virginia University student who was pledging for the Kappa Sigma fraternity, had no idea that the fraternity their son was involved with had a history of bad behavior and was on the verge of losing its charter.
Unfortunately, this case is not unique. Parents of Tucker Hipps, a student from Clemson University, had no idea that the fraternity their son was pledging had numerous violations against them while their son was pledging. Marquise Braham’s family was unaware that their son’s well-being was of concern at Penn State University in the days leading up to his suicide.
In all three cases, families of these deceased young men believe that they were left in the dark by institutions that they trusted to teach and nurture their sons. And in all three cases, their sons deaths were caused by hazing. These young men are just three out of two dozen students to have died in hazing related incidents since 2008.
Nowhere on West Virginia University’s website was there any mention of Kappa Sigma’s history of “occurrences of concern,” which included hosting unsanctioned events, overcrowding their off-campus fraternity house and behaving in a way the university deemed “inappropriate”.
Burch, a WVU freshman, died in November 2014 following a hazing event. At the time of his death, Burch had a blood-alcohol level of 0.493, over six times the legal limit. His death led to all Greek activity on campus being suspended, and two criminal charges against Kappa Sigma.
According to Burch’s parents, they, and their 18-year-old son, were unaware of the issues within the fraternity. The Burchs believe that had their son known, he never would have pledged for that frat and he would still be with them today.
“We had no idea, unfortunately, until Nolan passed, that there had been so many problems,” Burch’s mother Kim said. “It’s sad. It’s really sad. If we had known this was going on, we would have never let him join this fraternity.”
WVU, Clemson and Penn State are just a few schools of many who boast of hosting a wonderful Greek life experience on campus. However, these universities fail to address the very real dangers that are associated with Greek life.
Fraternity and sorority violations are rarely, if ever, listed on university websites. University policies on hazing are often posted separately from other information regarding Greek life, making them difficult to find.
“(Universities) won’t give you the full information because it will confirm that what you believe is right,” Doug Fierberg, lawyer for the Braham family said. “Of course you have a zero tolerance policy. (Hazing is) illegal. … But why wouldn’t you tell parents it’s still going on?”
One thing is clear: in order for these untimely deaths to stop, that channel of communication between the university, parents and students needs to open. Post-secondary institutions need to be upfront and honest about the organizations, Greek and otherwise, operating with and involving the students on campus.