It’s the time of year when, all across the nation, parents are getting their college-bound students ready to leave the nest.
May I suggest as you shop for the essentials – you know, the bed linens, the mini-microwave and the ubiquitous bean bag chair – you tell your child the story of Robert Tipton, Jr.
Robert left Memphis, Tenn., with big plans for the future. He attended High Point University in North Carolina. In the spring of 2012, Robert pledged to become a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity because what college kid doesn’t want to feel like they are part of a popular group, right?
On the morning of March 26, 2012, young Robert was found beaten, unconscious and not breathing in an apartment not far from the High Point campus. When paramedics got him to the hospital, he was declared dead.
Robert’s devastated mother, Deborah, was not satisfied with answers she got from campus security and local law enforcement, so she hired an investigator to dig deeper into the circumstances of her boy’s death.
The North Carolina Medical Examiner’s autopsy had made note of the contusions and hemorrhaging Robert suffered on the right side of his head, left side of his face and neck, and his anterior abdomen, but declared the cause of death was “oxymorphone poisoning.”
The report Robert’s mother commissioned concluded otherwise. It determined the awful beating Robert got – as part of an alleged hazing ritual – caused him to “sustain a concussion which precipitated the … aspiration of gastrointestinal contents.” In other words, he fell unconscious from the beating and choked on his own vomit.
In a lawsuit Deborah Tipton filed a few months ago, she alleges that her son was “hazed viciously by members of Delta Sig at the direction of [Michael] Qubein,” who just happens to be the son of High Point University’s president, Nido Qubein.
Neither the University nor the Qubein family have commented on the specific charges. Nido Qubein has said only that Tipton’s conclusions could not “be further from the truth.”
The lawsuit claims “Delta Sig ran wild on and near campus. This included illegal and rampant use of alcohol, drugs, violence and hazing of its pledges, including the hazing that resulted in the plaintiff’s death.”
The Tipton family believes the perpetrators have been protected from punishment due to the university president’s standing in the community.
The legal system will ultimately decide the Tipton case, but the sad fact is that the picture painted in the court documents regularly occurs on college campuses across the country: booze, drugs and over-the-top hazing disguised as tradition.
It is more than simple one-on-one bullying. It’s a culture that convinces level-headed kids to submit to outrageous treatment because they feel popularity is just around the corner.
Legally speaking, hazing is specifically against the law in 44 states – only New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii have not passed such laws, depending instead on long-standing assault statutes.
Many institutions of higher learning have anti-hazing policies, as well. But, according to the website InsideHazing.com, more than a quarter million students report they endured hazing as part of joining a college athletic team. Forty percent say their coach was aware of it and 22 percent said the coach participated in the hazing.
Sadly, USA Today reports that at least one college student has died every year since 1970 due to some sort of initiation gone wrong.
The age-old practice of forcing a newbie to submit to violence, excessive or dangerous eating and drinking, and even sexual humiliation doesn’t happen only on college campuses – and it’s not just fraternities and sororities that dish it out. Students in marching bands, class clubs and other college-sponsored organizations have also fallen victim.
High school and middle school kids have reported being subjected to, and voluntarily submitting to, hazing rituals. But younger kids come home after class or club events and observant parents can sense if something is wrong. It’s those students who go away to school who are most vulnerable.
You may have instilled good judgment in your student but, once they leave home, the temptations and peer pressure can be overwhelming. Illegal underage drinking is rampant on and around college campuses. So is drug use and casual sex. Introduce the ritual of hazing into the equation and even the best kids can morph into either a tormentor or the tormented.
The long-standing federal Cleary Act requires universities to publish their campus crime statistics every year so students and their parents can factor in that information as they choose a school. But the law focuses on cases of rape and other sexual assaults, not hazing.
New proposed changes would have colleges also release statistics about instances of stalking, dating violence and domestic violence on campus. Again, nothing about vicious or even deadly hazing.
If you have a college-bound student, take time to talk to them about this. Discuss the issues of drinking and drugs. Talk about self-esteem and how the quest to fit in can blind a person to reality. Heck, bring up the Golden Rule if you must and urge them to insist their classmates treat them thusly.
Make your young adult understand that no group that would degrade or humiliate them is worth belonging to.
And, a final note. If your loved one falls victim to a crime on campus, don’t hesitate to call in local law enforcement. Campus security can be helpful but they work at the pleasure of the university hierarchy, which is sometimes more interested in downplaying campus crimes and less interested in achieving real justice for your child.
Just ask Deborah Tipton.