NORTHWEST ARKANSAS — We remain thankful that an ugly incident at a University of Arkansas fraternity party last year did not turn out to be fatal.
Still, we cringe to recall it. Dozens of pledges to Phi Delta Theta drank alcohol at the group’s on-campus house during a “big brother little brother” party on Nov 12, 2009, blatantly flaunting the rules against drinking events for new members.
Had it ended with that, it would have been bad enough.
According to his attorneys, one of those pledges, Nicholas Brown, was coerced by fraternity members to drink so much that his blood-alcohol level reached a staggering 0.68 percent. Brown, a freshman at the time, collapsed and slipped into a coma for about two days, his attorneys have said.
Brown’s attorneys are now suing the international and local fraternity. Earlier this month, they also filed a claim with the Arkansas State Claims Commission, alleging that the university knew that the fraternity was out of control and failed to prevent the party atmosphere that led to the hazing of Brown. The commission might recommend that the state Legislature pay Brown to compensate him for his medical expenses, attorney fees and other damages.
The justice system and the commission will sort out who deserves the blame and what the consequences should be. In the meantime, this kind of incident should be remembered.
Youth and alcohol are a dangerous mix. Youth, alcohol, blind recklessness and the apparent lack of a clue or even the most passing familiarity with the risks involved by anyone present are worse.
If nothing else, exposing the details of the Brown case ought to compel students to think before engaging in the kind of activity that took place at Phi Delta Theta.
Forced drunkenness isn’t funny. Drinking is not a rite of passage. It has risks, and those risks grow exponentially the more intoxicated anyone becomes. The people doing the hazing were clearly childish. Things never would have gotten to this point if anyone involved had displayed any maturity.
The treatment of Brown showed that no one there considered themselves to be a big brother, which is supposed to be at the core of any fraternal organization.
The Brown incident was an example of how stupidity can take root in a crowd of otherwise intelligent people when they’re focused on any sort of initiation that demands a future member go through some sort of unpleasantness or outright torture - then add liquor.
Brown could have died. We’re guessing that he signed up to attend the university to make a better life for himself, not to have that life shortened by some warped sense of brotherhood.
We don’t hold Brown blameless for what happened. Though only 18, he was old enough to grasp the concept of personal responsibility. In this case, he could have left the party, even if it meant turning his back on this fraternity - which, in hindsight, doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
That said, there were numerous people at that party - some older (and, one would think, wiser) than Brown - who were aware of what was happening. They all share in the responsibility.
Someone should have stepped in and said that enough is enough - a long time before this ended where it did.
That’s what we hope will happen the next time such a situation presents itself.