Hello to the parents of new fraternity men and sorority women,
My name is Rich Braham, and my 18-year-old son, Marquise, was new to Greek life, just like your kids. He was driven—an academic scholarship recipient and very active in student life on campus. Marquise had an incredibly bright future, but he did not survive his freshman year due to fraternity hazing.
I may have never met you or your children, but I want you to know that I love you and love them. I want nothing less than for your children to return safely to you from school and achieve their full potential, allowing you to watch with pride as they grow up, build their careers and start their own families. That’s what we wanted for Marquise but hazing stole those dreams from him and stole Marquise from us. I don’t want you to suffer as we are. I would like to share what we wish we had known at the time. It could literally save your child’s life!
Your child will be excited about joining their fraternity or sorority at first. The opportunity to make lifelong friends and future professional contacts will have them pretty pumped. But if your child’s mood changes, they seem sad or distant, and aren’t as communicative as they’ve been in the past, that could be a sign of trouble.
HazingPrevention.Org also has many other warning signs to look for, including:
- Unexplained injuries or illnesses
- Increase in secrecy or unwillingness to share information
- Expressions of sadness or worthlessness
- Sudden change in sleeping or eating habits
- Unexplained weight loss
Marquise had been less communicative, but we thought he was just busy with school, rather than was enduring hell within his fraternity. I’d also advise closely monitoring the social media and phone activity of your kids. We were allowing Marquise some latitude to grow into adulthood, and didn’t want to “spy” on him, but after his death, we learned from his iPhone how much he had suffered during his six months in Greek life. I’d rather have your child upset with you than not have your child at all. I would also ask friends and family who might be aware of some of the activities to speak up, rather than think they are helping their friend by remaining silent. I know you might feel disloyal, but if you care about your friend and think the activities in the organization might be putting them in danger, please tell a parent or some other adult who can investigate further and take action.
You know your child better than anyone else. If they have a history of keeping in touch when asked and they stop doing that, it’s unlikely it’s their choice not to communicate with you. Hazing thrives in secrecy, so if the chapter is hazing, your child will be encouraged to keep things from you. That could certainly include things like excessive alcohol and drug use; illegal or immoral activities; and being subject to or inflicting emotional or physical harm to their brothers and sisters. This is certainly abnormal behavior and is not something that your son or daughter would likely choose to do on their own. Marquise was a good kid, just like I’m sure your child is. As a high school senior, he taught and mentored kids, cared for seniors at a geriatric center and volunteered at Ronald McDonald House.
But when you’re joining an organization with a hierarchical structure imposing strict discipline and adherence to “leadership,” your child will almost certainly feel compelled to follow orders or face the consequences.
During Marquise’s time as a new member, the hazing rituals started mildly in comparison to what was to come. But they were intended to scrape away the moral teachings of right and wrong that his family and a Catholic education and upbringing had instilled in him.
He and the other pledges were ordered to put on a full-face ski mask, go into a general store in rural Pennsylvania, and steal a small item like a bag of chips or a pack of gum. The pledges all had their cell phones confiscated, but were being filmed by their big brothers, so they had evidence they had completed the task. Stealing an item less than a dollar might be something that could be dismissed as a small thing, but that opened the gateway to bigger, more hurtful and twisted activities. That included things like the “locked in” ceremony, where pledges were locked in a closet together with a large garbage can and several bottles of liquor and told to drink and puke until the bucket was full of their vomit. The pledges got so drunk they were urinating and vomiting all over each other rather than into the garbage can, but they couldn’t get out of the closet unless the president or vice president let them out. The amount of alcohol they drank could have resulted in fatal alcohol poisoning. There was also a fight club where the pledges brutally beat one another, leaving one pledge concussed and requiring hospitalization. Marquise also thought he was concussed and was afraid to fall asleep for fear of not waking up again. Another hazing ritual I’ll share is the “dildo challenge,” where the pledges were given a choice of snorting a line of cocaine or having a dildo shoved into their rectum. This was also captured on cell phones, which could be used to blackmail the pledges in the future if they ever violated the code of silence.
What “brother” blackmails another “brother?” What organization that claims to build better men would encourage and carry out dehumanizing activities like this?
Marquise actually survived his pledging experience and even took a leadership role his second semester because he thought he “could make things better.” He couldn’t make it better. Before he came home for spring break, hazing season for the pledge class had just begun. Marquise had taken a picture of one of those pledges who had been blindfolded as another big brother held a gun to his head. Marquise texted with friends from high school about how some of the things being done to his brothers were tough to watch. While home on spring break, Marquise was adamant he saw a priest for confession. He had been a fairly committed Catholic, so we didn’t think it was too strange. But just days later, he jumped 11 stories from a hotel roof to his death—two days before he was due to return to school and hazing season.
Knowledge really is power, but you’ll likely find it very difficult to get information or transparency on hazing-related offenses from colleges, universities, fraternities and sororities. Like us, you probably attended a freshman orientation, and heard from school administrators (if they discussed Greek life at all) that they have a “zero tolerance for hazing.” That may be true, but universities are not doing all they can. They can expel students involved in hazing or sexual assaults connected to campus organizations, but that rarely happens. We shouldn’t have to fight to pass a law that increases transparency, so parents and students can make informed choices about the campus groups they are considering joining. That should already be the case. Fraternities and sororities can and should do the same.
This is why my family, a group of other families whose children have died from hazing, the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference have partnered together to change that. We have united to form the Anti-Hazing Coalition, which is aggressively pushing for passage of the End All Hazing Act, a federal law that would require all higher education institutions that receive federal student aid to keep records of student organizations who have violated the student code of conduct and threatened student safety. The records—which would be publicly available on the institutions’ websites—would reveal what the specific violations were and what disciplinary or corrective measures were imposed by the school. This act will give parents and prospective students what we didn’t have: awareness of all student organizations’ prior bad acts so they can make an informed choice on the quality and character of the organization they’re considering joining.
While passage of the End All Hazing Act will be a vast improvement in campus safety over what is currently available, there are still other things parents and their children considering Greek life need to know to keep them safe from harm.
Marquise’s story may not seem typical of hazing deaths, but there have been a number of students in recent years who have died as a result of a hazing-related suicide. Hazing is not normal, whether someone is a victim or perpetrator. It involves not just physical assaults but is psychologically and emotionally destructive as well.
I’ve written this letter in the hope that your child does not suffer the fate that Marquise and too many other children have. They should be able to go to college, feed their minds, meet new friends and join campus organizations without fear of being physically assaulted, humiliated and demeaned, and in the worst cases, killed. This should never happen. I hope sharing Marquise’s story and other tips we’ve learned since his death will help you keep your own child safe.
As I stated near the top of this letter, I do not know you. You do not know me. But I love you, and I love your children. I know how much we love Marquise, and if you love your own kids a fraction of that amount, I know how much pain you would be in if they were harmed. It’s the same pain that I wake up with every day. But if the information I’ve shared with you can protect your child, I’ll know that I have achieved something extraordinarily good—something my beautiful son would have wanted and been so proud of.
I want your child to live.
All photos courtesy of the Braham family