In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Hank Nuwer, a leading expert on hazing. They discuss the origins of Hank’s career focus on hazing, his comprehensive database of hazing deaths, and how he verifies the accuracy of the information he receives. Hank shares his insights on the different types of hazing, the warning signs to look out for, and the importance of addressing hazing in all student organizations, not just fraternities. He also discusses the role of coaches in preventing hazing and shares success stories of schools and organizations that have tackled this issue effectively. The conversation highlights the need for a cultural shift away from hazing and towards creating a sense of belonging without abuse.
- Sharing personal experiences with hazing (01:20)
- Analyzing the role of institutions in hazing prevention (05:10)
- Highlighting the importance of education and awareness (08:15)
- Should schools abolish Greek life or fraternity sororities? (10:25)
- Discussion about different types of hazing (13:00)
- How to define hazing (13.40)
- How hazing manifests in different organizations (15:00)
- Hank discusses his books and plays (19:00)
- Hank discusses future projects (20:30)
- Positive turn around stories from institutions (21:52)
- Experiences at other universities (23:50)
- How can we get coaches involved (25:00)
- How lonliness factors into hazing (26:30)
- Conclusion (28:00)
Kristina Supler: Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Christina Supler. We are full-time moms and attorneys bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real, candid conversations.
Susan Stone: Today’s podcast is going to tackle the issue of hazing and what a lot of you out there may not know is that Christina and I have looked at hazing from many different perspectives in our career. We have defended accused of hazing. We’ve actually been asked to help a Greek organization against accusations of hazing. And we have represented victims of hazing. So we have a real 360, don’t Christina?
Kristina Supler: We do and we’re, as our listeners may know, we’re located in Ohio, but we handle cases across the country. And what’s interesting is that Ohio has been a real hotbed of this activity, though, of course, it happens in students across the country are dealing with these sorts of issues. So we’re excited to jump into this topic today.
Susan Stone: I really am too. And I am super excited about the guest we have. I feel very fortunate. I want all our listeners know before we give our name out that we reach out to him or her. And we just kept at it because I really wanted this guest on the podcast. So with that, why don’t you do the intro?
Kristina Supler: Sure. We are joined today by Hank Newer, who is a renowned anti-hazing journalist, author and scholar, known for his unwavering dedication to eradicating hazing culture. With over four decades of experience, he’s authored many influential books. He maintains a comprehensive database of hazing deaths. And he continues to be a leading voice in raising awareness and advocating for prevention efforts in colleges and beyond. Welcome, Hank. We’re so happy to have you with us today.
Hank Newer: Thank you. I’m very pleased to be here.
Susan Stone: And I got to add. We just learned Hank lives in Alaska. So we got a little northern exposure going on here. So I love it. But with Hank, let’s kick it off. How did hazing become your career focus?
Hank Newer: Not because I was hazed, but because I was at the University of Nevada, Reno. And we had a hazing death that was just off campus. But I had seen the initiation. At that time, hazing was rampant, not against the law in a lot of places. I had seen the initiation on campus. And then at a campus bar, I saw someone passed out at a pool table. He was foaming at the mouth. The organization was called the Sun Downers. And their alumni are some of the leading citizens in Nevada. The initiation consisted of making people drink ever clear. And they would throw a match at their lips. So a lot of people were–
Susan Stone: Oh my gosh.
Hank Newer: Yeah, that was supposed to be funny.
Kristina Supler: That’s shocking.
Hank Newer: It was. So the person that was foaming I got them to take him and walk him. But I think if I had called the police or so, they wouldn’t have done it another time. And John Davies might still be alive. So they did it one more time. And they did this one, not in public. They went to an Indian reservation. And John Davies died, and another pledge was without oxygen for a while. And so I’ve done database reporting since the 70s. So I made a database of all the hazing deaths that were out there. And editor friend of mine put me in touch with Human Behavior Magazine. And so in the mid 70s, that first article came out. And I kept the database going ever since.
Susan Stone: Wow. I can’t even respond.
Kristina Supler: I think your database is really an important resource. And tell us more about how you receive information and reports that you put into your database. And how do you verify the accuracy of this information?
Hank Newer: It’s actually time consuming. I also on the page have a long list of deaths that are not considered hazing deaths, but appeared in the press as deaths. Some of these, in particularly around 1900, were with sensational reporting. And I had to track them to find out if these really did occur. So mostly it’s from media reports. But people get in touch all the time. If there’s a death, the chances of me talking to the parents within two or three days are very good. They’re going to be calling for information. And now I would say it’s the most difficult part of doing this job. But it was a lot of time. And it was very expensive in the 70s. I had a pay for Lexus Nexus myself. I paid the New York Times for their database. And I started a list serve in the 80s. And people were sending in information on that list serve, which you still could find some places online. So I just kept that over and over. And the good thing about being so public, if people disagree or want to talk about it, it’s all out there with full disclosure, where the information comes from.
Kristina Supler: That’s the purpose of the database.
Hank Newer: Because in the set, as I said before, there were a lot of deaths that did not occur that were listed. People were taking any alcohol related death at all and calling it hazing. And so I was trying to break down the details as much as anything else. The next database I’ll do will be all these sexual haze and cases involving athletes. And I hope to have that done next year.
Susan Stone I’m sure you’re thinking about that because of the Yates versus Northwestern case, am I correct?
Hank Newer: You have a lot of phone calls about that.
Kristina Supler: And we’re seeing a real rise in those sorts of cases in our practice that we handle the issue from all different angles. So I think that’s really important work you’re doing.
Susan Stone: I applaud you. What I want to know in your work because we address this, so I’m going to ask you a very selfish question, because I want to know the answer. But I’m sure Christina does too. So much of hazing is shrouded in secrecy and the members of hazing protect each other. What’s the best way for a person who’s a victim of hazing to gather the evidence to expose what’s going on, especially in a culture of silence?
Hank Newer: The way I try to do things is I go to the alums, people who’ve graduated a year or two earlier. And that’s very, very quickly after a death when I’m doing a story. Talking to the alums, yes, some of them will close, you know, shut the phone on you, but others will talk about it. And it’s a good way of getting into the middle. I try to talk to the advisors and get information from them. And if you just talk to people on campus, hazing isn’t as shrouded in secrecy as you think. People are going to be talking to their significant others. So it’s not the secret that fraternity members would like to think that it is.
Susan Stone: For sports organizations, correct?
Hank Newer: Yeah, for sport, well, one of the big problems is they don’t consider it as hazing
Kristina Supler: No, we know. We got it. We got it. I just wanted to comment that I think it’s also important to point out, and I’d like to hear more of your thoughts. I think often hazing is sort of conceptually conceived of as just happening among young men in fraternities. And in fact, it spans across all student organizations, entities, athletic teams, military groups. And it’s also not exclusively a male issue. I mean, Susan and I have plenty of case experiences involving female athletes in hazing. Can you talk a little bit more about what you’re seeing in the breakdown? And is there any rise in female hazing in your research?
Susan Stone: Generally, what are the trends?
Hank Newer: Yeah, I don’t really see a rise. I think it’s consistent. We’ve not had a death this year or last year, but we’ve had so many close calls. So people would like to think that we have a trend of deaths ending. We don’t. The people were lucky. Maybe what’s happening is they’re quicker to call 911 and not to just drop somebody off at the hospital where a few deaths have happened.
Susan Stone: Or leave them at the foot of the stairs like at Penn State?
Hank Newer: Yeah. Well, that– he was just left alone there. But several times, members have gotten frightened and taken somebody to the hospital and just dropped them off at the emergency. And it’s too late at that particular point. From what I saw in the one case, people went from standing up to being dead drunk and just short amount of time. So they’re talking, talking, talking, and then suddenly, it hits them. That case of foaming at the mouth was the most dramatic that I’ve ever seen.
Kristina Supler: I can’t imagine. I just can’t imagine what that must have been like and how that experience has obviously stayed with you. Hank, I’m curious. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether you think schools should abolish Greek life fraternity sororities? Or do you think that there’s value in these organizations?
Hank Newer: With certainty, abolish pledging. Not abolish Greek life. I taught 18 years of Franklin College. We didn’t have any incidents. I was the advisor to the honor society there, which is male and female. And we had positive initiations that could not in any way shape or form be considered hazing. And the students brought their parents or grandparents to the ceremony. But for me, it’s like a mathematical equation, pledging, becomes hazing as pledging becomes hazing. In terms of sports, get rid of the word rookie and stop this dominant subordinate culture that we have out there. And the other is a lot of the coaches will either turn their heads or say, don’t take it too far. And that is very, very common. Now, it’s very, very dangerous for coaches to do that. If you say, don’t take it too far, and you’re allowing it. And if alcohol is involved, it is going to go too far.
Susan Stone: Hank, just to kind of turn the question and turn the dial a little differently, there are the extreme cases of alcohol. The one you described you witness is horrific. And we’ve also worked on some pretty scary cases. But I have to say, we’ve also worked on cases where activities were labeled as hazing and taken as this serious infraction. I don’t know. I didn’t think it was so serious. I want to give you an example and get your response. We worked on a case where there was a pledging and when the pledges went active, there was a champagne shower. Like they do after car racing.
Kristina Supler: Yeah, it celebrates.
Susan Stone: That was investigated for being hazing. I don’t think that’s hazing. What do you think?
Hank Newer: I broke it out out into criminal hazing and non-criminal hazing. Certainly, with something that you’re describing, I would have never gotten into this kind of thing. The hazing that I had as a fraternity member was being dropped off in the country. We knew about it ahead of time and had money to call friends. So when you look at it that way, you don’t think it’s so bad. But then you look at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Four pledges were killed and aligned as they were walking. And actually, alcohol wasn’t involved for them when they were in the middle of nowhere. So the problem is that what would look like innocent fun, sometimes things go wrong. In that case, it’s a hard line between what’s hazing and what’s an accident. And in talking to fraternity advisors, you can’t punish the same way. You can’t punish somebody for having a pledge pen, the same way that you would for having them drink a handle of alcohol. But in some cases, hazing is hazing, and it’s punished that way. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Susan Stone: So how do you define hazing?
Hank Newer: And hazing to me would be any activity that’s silly, dangerous, or repulsive, that’s done to newcomers by veterans in order to bring them into the organization.
Susan Stone: Why silly?
Kristina Supler: Is it because you think it’s humiliating and embarrassing?
Hank Newer: We’re talking about the things that you said were not so bad. Like for me, I think it says something about male attitudes toward women when baseball players make each other dress up and go on to play in women’s clothing or so on. But what about singing a song? Singing your fight song? That was in the movie, Paper Lion. Alex Karris was in that particular movie. George Plympton, who I interviewed about it, was pretending to be a player, a quarterback on the Detroit Lions, and he brought out a lot of that. So that kind of culture is still there. The only problem is, and there’s no real study on it, our people going to take it farther if you have this kind of dominance. Somehow it got into from singing to tying people up to a goal post. And these are big, burly guys fighting back in people have been injured. Or hockey, it’s gotten sexualized as you probably have seen in your research.
Susan Stone: We have.
Hank Newer: Band is very physical. Look at the death of Robert Champion. And when you were talking about different kinds, so when I’m talking to parents in 2018 in South Carolina, the parents were of a band member, their fraternity members. Interestingly enough, no sorority moms have gotten involved. I don’t know exactly why it is, but the activists are the parents of fraternity members. And Kathleen Wyatt, for example, in Ohio is a big actress. Yeah, yeah, a lot. And before I took Robert Fairbanks, by the way, I was the editor of the Solana paper.
Kristina Supler: Many of our listeners are parents of high school and college students. And so based on your experience and knowledge with this subject, what are some of the warning signs that parents, but also students should be aware of and look out for regarding hazing within organizations?
Hank Newer: Well, there’s like a personality change, a good way that a young woman put it, who was hazed at DuPau with having cigarettes put between our legs and burnt.
Susan Stone: That’s torture.
Hank Newer: That one was interesting. It was Kappa Kappa Gamma. They were members of a family within the organization. And this happened at Chico State too, where the family has their choice of alcohol. One death, Adrian Hydeman at Chico State, it was brandy. These young women, I can’t remember what their alcohol was, but they had to drink that particular liquor. And so with that particular case, the warning signs were that she lost her bubbliness, and that’s the best description I could give. That she, the young woman, had been dancing. She grew up with ballet. When I interviewed her, she was working in a pizza parlour. And she had put on a bit of weight with stress. And that was one interview. Another young woman who fought back and later got her PhD in family studies fought back. So people have just different kinds of reactions. Mine with the case of having to go out, I didn’t really think that much about it. Because we had somebody pick us up right away. But if somebody had gotten killed on one of those marches, I’d be looking at it differently. If the death hadn’t occurred at Nevada Reno, I certainly never would have written about hazing.
Susan Stone: You have written four books, is that correct?
Hank Newer: Yeah, four books. And then I have a novel which has a hazing of Basques and Chinese in the early United States.
Susan Stone: And you’ve also written a play, correct the broken pludge?
Hank Newer: Yes, it was a winner of an Anne Frank Award at Buffalo State University. It used to be Buffalo State College. And I got to put my one man play on. And I put that play on for athletes. And I call it Death Of A Rookie. And then there’s the Broken Pledge, which is about fraternity members. But it’s pretty much the same. A grandfather, buries his grandson that day, and this overcome with grief, hatred, asking where God was when this occurred, losing his faith, and then turning it around with quotations that were in his son’s diary from Martin Luther King. So I hope it’s as powerful as I think.
Susan Stone: Well, I have to tell you, I watched a lot of it. And I thought it was incredibly poignant. How is it that you keep able to turn out content on this one issue and see so many angles and sides of it? It’s impressive.
Hank Newer: Yeah, I think part of it is by talking to the parents and experts and people that are in the Greek world, they have the insights too. So I had interviewed Louis Lamore one time and he said, it’s not that we’re so clever, we’re a sponge, we’re a filter, and we take all of this in. So I think I have to give credit to other people for their perspective and how they see things, but I do have a good memory.
Kristina Supler: What’s next for you, Hank, on the horizon of this project?
Hank Newer: Okay, so we’ll be doing that database that I told you about with sexual hazing. I have a chapter coming out for the University of Toronto, Cress out in 2024 with my own experiences which will be on athletic hazing. I am putting together in the garage about all these files, putting together all the hazing incidents I can find and to do those as a database as well. It’s a little more difficult when you’re working as an editor than when you’re teaching. The amount of free time is not quite as much. And now it’s politics coming up elections. You know, Ohio and Alaska, I won’t have as much time at all this weekend, I’ll be in that office constantly.
Kristina Supler: This is, we’ve talked a lot, a lot of heavy things and we always like to give our listeners something a little positive as well when, you know, contemplating our various topics. So can you share with us in your experience any success stories of schools, institutions, and specific organizations that have really tackled this issue of hazing and essentially turned a really negative situation into a positive to recreate culture surrounding this issue?
Hank Newer: Yes, Alfred University did that. They had the death of Chuck Stenzel, which was the subject of my book Broken Pledges, came out in 1989. But they got rid of the Greek system also. And there were a lot of lawsuits with that.Dr. Norm Pollard and a colleague of his, we were the ones that did the first high school hazing surveys. They also did surveys of fraternity members. I got to help write the questions for that, but they did most of the work. That was a big, big turnaround. And the impetus was not only the death of Chuck Stenzel, they had a bad football hazing. And I don’t think they lost the season, but they did suspend the team for a game or two. So yes, that was a turnaround. My personal story is I spoke at Penn State, and not two weeks later at Penn State, I got a phone call from the advisor at that particular time to say that the sorority, not hazing, had a woman take way too much alcohol, near point four BAC.
Kristina Supler: Oh my gosh, wow.
Hank Newer: The young women did not want to make the call. And one person who heard the, they all heard the talk, one person insisted, and they saved this young woman’s life.
Kristina Supler: And it only takes one person. It only takes one student to reach out for help that by standard intervention to stop something horrific.
Hank Newer: And it only takes one idiot in the room, sometimes, who’s, especially if that person is physically powerful to cause all these bad things as well. You hear that over and over again. So when there was a death of a lacrosse player at Western Illinois University, the punishment for the players, which was interesting, they were all fraternity members too, was to have a writer come in and go through the hazing with them, not the alcohol related part, which was 15 bottles put on stands, but to go into the river, to go marching through, to go to the house, so I’d be able to write about that. In a way, I felt like I was punished as well, because I did that at my own expense. And then it went into a book. But over and over, what’s the point? The point is they kept pointing to the student coach who not only did this, but instigated so that they would get the team credit card and put gas into their own vehicles. And each one had the same story. I thought somebody else would step up. Over and over, I kept hearing that same thing. And guess what? The instigator would not talk to me. He never went to jail, either. The judge did not follow through. But yeah, there was one perpetrator who was the prime mover.
Susan Stone: How can we get coaches to get on board?
Kristina Supler: Great question.
Hank Newer: Really difficult. So I talked at a Quaker school in Delaware, athletic director, a female, really against all kind of hazing, really working football coach. The veteran comes up to me later and said, yeah, this is all fine, but we’re not going to take it too far. I thought, geez, you just heard this whole talk. You saw the pictures of the kids on the screen and you’re going to tell me this. And so then also when I was at Regis in Denver, I was talking, the athletic director was very much against it, talking to the different coaches. And I asked the coach, after what would happen if you heard there was hazing on your team, would you punish them? And he said, starter or reserve?
Kristina Supler: I was just going to say, I mean, obviously, in particularly collegiate athletics and big schools, coaches are often evaluated based on their winning record. And so it’s decision for them to make when a hazing perpetrator is also a star athlete. We just hope that the coach makes the right choice in terms of promoting student safety versus thinking about wins and losses over truly in the long run, what’s best for the team from a cultural perspective and student safety perspective.
Susan Stone: I think that especially as kids just went back to school, everybody wants to feel a sense of belonging. People can be a very lonely place, both high school and college. And we have to train people that abuse is not the way to bond.
Hank Newer: And here in Fairbanks, there was a case I never heard about until I came here where the football coach called it team bonding to have the players jump into the swimming pool and take off all their clothes to switch it to everything, put them back on while in the pool and there were three near deaths. And he forbid his assistants to jump into the water until it was almost too late. And yes, he lost his job, but I never heard about it because our paper in covering it called it what he called it, a team building or team bonding.
Susan Stone: Right.
Hank Newer: I’ve written about that since and called it hazing exactly what it is.
Kristina Supler: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today, Hank. And I think that you’re obviously a wealth of knowledge on this topic. So we really appreciate your knowledge and insights and encourage our listeners to check out your wealth of material on the topic as well, your books and your database. You are worth the weight.
Susan Stone: You are worth the wait. Really. Thank you so much.
Kristina Supler: Thanks for listening to Real Talk with Susan and Christina. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our show so you never miss an episode. And leave us a review so other people can find the content we share here. You can follow us on Instagram, just search our handle @StoneSoupler. And for more resources, visit us online at studentdefense.kjk.com. Thank you so much for being a part of our Realtalk community. We’ll see you next time