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October 16, 2013

Fraternities scuttle recruiting ban prompted by drinking deaths

(Continued)

Of the 24 fraternity-related freshman deaths since 2005, 15 occurred during and after recruiting events, including hazing and initiation rituals.

At Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, freshman David Bogenberger died last year of alcohol poisoning after a fraternity initiation rite known as "Mom and Dad's Night." With other pledges, Bogenberger moved from room to room at the chapter house answering questions from members and downing vodka before passing out, court records show.

Fraternities have taken steps to protect students, including banning alcohol at recruiting events and supporting sanctions against violators, said Peter Smithhisler, president of the Interfraternity Conference.

While drinking deaths at fraternities are "heartbreaking," many students drink too much, not just at fraternities, he said. Keeping out freshmen merely puts a "Band-Aid" on a broader campus problem, he said. It also deprives freshmen of opportunities at fraternities for leadership, career networking and charitable work, he said.

"It would be a travesty if the fraternity experience were not available for the development of these young men," Smithhisler said. "We believe in the fraternity experience and its ability to really transform an undergraduate into better men, better citizens, better doctors, teachers, engineers."

If colleges are allowed to restrict recruitment for a semester or a year, they could next extend the delay through sophomore year, or even shut down fraternities, as some liberal arts institutions have done, he said.

"Recruitment is the lifeblood for every chapter," Smithhisler said.

Carson Starkey, whose death prompted the Cal Poly ban, hadn't planned on joining a fraternity until he arrived at the public university of 19,000 on the central California coast. One out of six undergraduates there participate in Greek life.

The clean-cut, curly-haired 18-year-old from Austin, Texas, knew no one on campus, and the opportunity to bond with fraternity brothers soon appealed to him. He chose to pledge Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest fraternities, with chapters on almost 230 campuses in the U.S. and Canada.

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