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Illinois State, Illinois Wesleyan respond after death of student at NIU frat

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 9:42 a.m. CST

(MCT) — DEKALB, Ill. — Nearly two dozen fraternity members at Northern Illinois University have been charged with hazing-related counts after a freshman was... Read more

Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities have policies and educational programs in place that they hope can prevent a tragedy like the one that led to 22 members of a Northern Illinois University fraternity being charged after the hazing death of a freshman.

But they also acknowledge the difficulty in changing behavior.

"Most of our students come to college with a pretty well-established pattern of alcohol use," said Karla Carney-Hall, IWU's vice president of student affairs and dean of students. "Often what we're trying to do is re-establish what it means to be responsible."

Michael Zajac, coordinator of fraternity and sorority life at ISU, said: "A lot of our students think in the here and now. They don't look at the historical perspective. They don't believe it's going to happen to them."

In the NIU incident, which occurred Nov. 1, police said pledges rotated from room to room in the fraternity house, were asked questions and provided liquor to drink. A 19-year-old freshman died and several other pledges reported getting sick and passing out, police said.

Five fraternity members were charged Monday with felony hazing and 17 others face misdemeanor hazing charges.

Earlier this year, IWU suspended the Epsilon Gamma chapter of Sigma Pi and the fraternity's parent organization revoked its charter after the death of a freshman who had attended an unregistered off-campus social event in northern Illinois. The Winnebago County coroner said acute alcohol intoxication contributed to his death.

Partly in response to that, IWU offered "bystander intervention training" this fall, Carney-Hall said.

"People watch people get into trouble and do nothing," she said, adding that it's a combination of not knowing what to do and the social pressure to do nothing, whether it's alcohol or hazing. About 250 students went through the training.

Zajac said there is a comprehensive effort to educate ISU students about policies on alcohol use and hazing.

"We have something called Sorority and Fraternity Life 101 for new members," he said. University officials meet with fraternity and sorority leaders and bring in speakers. The headquarters of the organizations also provide material.

"They're getting information from a whole lot of areas. In the end, they have to make the decision to follow it," Zajac said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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