The First Reported Hazing Death

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In 1838, John Butler died due to a class hazing at Franklin Seminary in Kentucky, the first reported hazing death. October. In 1905, Stuart L. Pierson was hit by an unscheduled train and died because he was being initiated into Delta Kappa Epsilon at Kenyon College. In September, 1912, William Rand died after being brought out to the football field in the middle of the night to perform various hazing stunts where his neck was punctured by a broken glass bottle in order to be initiated into a fraternity at UNC Chapel Hill. 

In September 1997, Scott Krueger, a freshman at MIT, died of alcohol intoxication as a part of a ritual celebration for being admitted into Phi Gamma Delta, a fraternity on campus. In October 2000, Adrian Heideman, a student at Cal State Chico, died from aspirating his own vomit and asphyxiating because of his high level of alcohol intoxication, which was part of his initiation ritual into a fraternity on campus. Fast forward to 2017, one of the deadliest years in terms of hazing deaths. 

One of the most famous hazing death cases, Tim Piazza, a 19 year-old pledge to the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State died two days after falling down the stairs due to his high level of intoxication, a result of his initiation into the fraternity. Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer has done extensive research regarding deaths caused by hazing. He found that over 200 university hazing deaths have occurred since 1838, with 40 deaths specific to 2017. 

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Furthermore, his research states that there is at least 1 hazing death every year. He also noticed the trend that alcohol poisoning is the biggest contributor to these deaths. While the dictionary definition of hazing is “the imposition of strenuous, often humiliating, tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation”, the conventional wisdom regarding hazing is that it happens most frequently among various college campuses, more specifically in fraternities. Today, we will be focusing on hazing in colleges, even though it can occur in different aspects of life as well.

People have a tendency to associate this horrific act with pledges to a specific Greek-life house and the initiation rituals it may use. Because hazing is generally inhumane and creates an environment full of unexamined, pointless violence, it can be considered a negative tradition. So, why do people take part of this ghastly tradition, ESPECIALLY if it has caused so many deaths and even more injuries in the past? And where did hazing start? Hazing can be traced back to pennalism, a system of mild oppression and torment practiced upon first year students, which was implemented in Plato’s 

Academy back in 387 B.C.E. At this point, it was more practical jokes and humiliation rather than physical hurt that was inflicted on first years. This practice continued through the Middle Ages, where it began to establish the inferiority of underclassmen to upperclassmen. It continued to the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries where it became widely known as hazing and was more focused on initiation through physically tiring and exhausting tasks rather than simply practical jokes and pranks. 

Along with this shift in emphasis of hazing, there was a shift in the reasoning behind it. Now, the reasoning is more complex; the rationale, unfortunately, doesn’t fit into a perfect cookie cutter mold. Usually, the pledges go through the initiation process together. Because of this, they are stripped from any and all individuality they may have. This then leads to a dependence on each other, with can create the brotherhood-feel that is desired within a fraternity. 

This further creates a sense of unity, one of the most important pillars in many fraternities. This perseverance through extreme hardship creates bonds that can rarely be broken. Many freshmen in college rush; they are looking to find their “college family” and often find it in Greek life because of the relationships formed due to hazing and initiation. Hazing and pledgeship also provides a commonality for all the brothers in a fraternity. If everyone has been hazed, it is likely they have gone through similar tasks and events which create that common ground. If individuals survive the initiation process, specifically the hazing, there is a greater respect earned for that person. Furthermore, hazing feeds off of our primal psychology as humans. 

We have a desire and necessity to belong as well as a need for acceptance and affiliation. Greek life is a great example of these needs and desires being filled, especially if the pledgees make it through initiation. Because of this, people desire to be a part of these organizations. Furthermore, there is a dominance factor of the upperclassmen that influences their desire to watch the freshmen/new pledges be hazed. It gives them a big ego boost and reminds them of their superiority as they have already survived through this horrific process and can now pass it on to other people.  

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