It’s pretty much a parent’s worst nightmare. You send your kid off to college so they can have a bright future only to have their lives cut short because of some cruel and archaic hazing rituals practiced by the fraternity or sorority they are trying to get into.
Hazing deaths are tragic and needless, but they are in no way, shape or form accidents — because they are 100 percent avoidable.
Hazing sure seems outdated in today’s ultra-PC age, but the United States alone has seen more than 125 hazing deaths since 1838. Of those deaths, 25 percent occurred in the 2000s and 2010s alone, which should give you a sense of just how bad hazing rituals have gotten in recent years.
Penn State, which is no stranger to scandals, has recently come under fire for the death of Tim Piazza, a sophomore who died after participating in hazing rituals at Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in February. Piazza fell down a flight of stairs after consuming massive amounts of alcohol and died from irreversible spleen and brain stem damage.
Eighteen men total, all fraternity members, are being charged with crimes including hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors and tampering with evidence, and eight members are being charged with manslaughter. Beta Theta Pi itself is also being hit with nearly 150 criminal charges.
But the sad hazing death of Piazza is hardly an isolated incident. Here’s a look at some of the worst instances of hazing, listed from least to most horrifying. Read on only if you have a strong stomach.
11. The human garbage bag
Britteny Starling, former pledge of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority at University of California, Berkeley, said she was forced to act as a human mop and garbage can, cleaning up juice from the floor and collecting garbage from the other girls using just her hands and pockets. Then she and the other pledges were made to stay awake all night without being allowed to use the bathroom. They were also forced to stay standing, and when Starling’s leg gave out, a sister hit her in the ankle, injuring her severely. She later sued the sorority, which was later shut down. At least that’s sort of a win, right?
10. The double brand
A drunk Kappa Sigma pledge was branded with the frat’s Greek letters by his brothers using a hot iron hanger. He apparently passed out in the process, which gave his brothers incentive to brand him further. He woke up with both Kappa Sigma letters on his butt as well as the sorority Tri Delta’s letters. He ended up with third-degree burns, which took six surgeries to heal.
9. Eat the curb
In 2008 at Penn State Altoona, sorority pledge Joanne told ABC news she was forced to stand facing a concrete wall with the other pledges, and if any of them moved an inch, their face would be slammed into it. They were also apparently forced to scrub the floors using only their fingernails and to drink water that she described as “pitch black.” While the college website has strict rules against hazing, the offending sorority was left unpunished, and Joanne continued to receive harassing emails, phone calls and messages throughout her time at Penn State. Such emotional scars take much longer to heal than physical ones.
8. Burned out
New Orleans is not just known for its steamy weather. In 2008, 10 Pi Kappa Alpha members from Tulane University poured boiling water, pepper spray and cayenne pepper down the backs of their pledges. Apparently the water got hotter and hotter as the night went on, and the pledges who managed to not scream got the worst burns. Fortunately these hazers were brought to justice and faced charges of aggravated second-degree battery. The fraternity is no longer recognized by the university.
7. The washing machine
Jo Hannah Burch, who was pledging Gamma Psi at Young Harris College in 2013, said she and other pledges were forced to crawl through the mud into a freezing creek in the woods while other sisters screamed and spit on them. Then they were made to sit on washing machines, and any body part that jiggled was circled with a Sharpie. After the school’s Greek life was called out, YHC claimed the student’s accounts were “false and outrageous.”
Next Up: Hot and cold
Originally published March 2015. Updated June 2017.