Analyst on hazing - path needed to healing

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 06:20 PM

Higher education law professor Peter Lake has spent the better part of his career analyzing the devastating impact of hazing deaths on college campuses — the deep loss for the loved ones of the young person whose life was cut short, the fallout of the tragedy for students, faculty and administrators.

Lake, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla., said incidents such as the death of High Point University student Robert Eugene Tipton Jr. and the wrongful death lawsuit about its circumstances pose an immense challenge for a university and community.
“There’s more attention than ever on fraternity-related and registered student group-related violence and death. The safety of students both on and off campus is becoming more intimately connected to brand identity and brand management,” said Lake, who is regularly quoted by national news outlets such as ABC News and CNN.
When a student dies and the family is in shock and grieving, universities need to recognize the tragedy in a heart-felt manner, Lake told The High Point Enterprise. And universities should show that they will learn from the loss.
“One of the things is to build on investigations of what occurred. A good and legitimate self-assessment of what happened and what can be done to improve begins the healing process,” Lake said. “I’ve found that there’s always the initial shock of the death of a student and the outflow that comes from that. Over time, if there’s going to be healing, it’s important to bring meaning to the event.”
Lake said that universities that retreat to denial about a tragedy don’t emerge as well in the long run.
“Sometimes the most important thing is the healing quality of recognizing the grief and moving forward, recognizing the humanity of the death of a young person in an unfortunate way,” the professor said.
In the ongoing case at HPU, the most recent development is that the fraternity at the forefront of the wrongful death lawsuit against HPU no longer is part of the campus.
Tipton, who was from Memphis, Tenn., was pledging the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity two years ago when he died under what’s now disputed circumstances. High Point police investigated the death but made no arrests. But a lawsuit filed earlier this month said that Tipton’s death stemmed from injuries he received during a fraternity hazing.
The board of directors of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity revoked the charter of the chapter at HPU on March 17, two days before the wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Guilford County Superior Court.
“The decision to revoke the charter was not related to the tragic death of Mr. Tipton or any threats of litigation,” said Patrick Jessee, executive director at the fraternity’s national office in Indianapolis.
HPU on Thursday referred comment to the national office of Delta Sigma Phi, but did confirm the university chapter of the fraternity is closed.
Tipton’s mother filed the lawsuit against the university and several other defendants, including Michael Qubein, a son of HPU President Nido Qubein. The legal action filed by Deborah Dunklin Tipton accuses Michael Qubein of serving as a so-called “pledge master” and alleges that he directed the hazing of Tipton.
HPU last week issued a statement saying that the accusations in the lawsuit are unfounded, but didn’t elaborate because the legal action is pending. Delta Sigma Phi, a defendant in the legal action, also calls the accusations unfounded.
Tipton’s body was found two years ago this week at an off-campus residence. A medical examiner’s report in 2012 concluded that Tipton died from poisoning from a prescription painkiller called Oxymorphone.  
But the lawsuit contends that Tipton was beaten during a hazing, and those injuries contributed to his death. Tipton’s mother secured a report from forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who has been involved with high-profile cases for decades.
Wecht disputed the medical examiner’s findings. His report ties Tipton’s death to blunt force trauma that caused the 22-year-old student to aspirate food particles.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528