Dr. Stephen Reich: Hazing Still a Problem Among College Students
Deadly Baruch College incident shows they still struggle with basic need to fit in
NEW YORK, Dec. 12, 2013 - Forensic psychologist Dr. Stephen Reich today said a fatal incident at Baruch College is an example of how hazing continues to be a problem among American college students.
"The need to be included is absolutely profound. In the young, it's based upon the sense that 'on my own, I'm not enough and, therefore, I need the social inclusion,'" Reich told CBS 2 New York as he provided analysis in the ongoing investigation into the death of 19-year-old freshman Chen Hsien "Michael" Deng at a fraternity's weekend retreat in Pennsylvania's Pocono mountains.
Prosecutors said they expect to file charges in connection with Deng's death, which came after a fraternity ritual in which he was blindfolded and put through a gauntlet as he had a heavy weight on his back. Deng, a pledge for the Pi Delta Psi fraternity, is reported to have suffered major brain trauma in the ritual at a rented country house.
CBS 2 New York reported that Deng, a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, was not taken to a hospital for as long as two hours. When he got to the hospital, doctors said he was brain dead and died hours later.
The death stunned Baruch students, with Deng's friends expressing their shock and sadness on social media. The fraternity's national leadership said the death took place at an unsanctioned event that was "strictly prohibited by our organization."
Baruch College officials said they did not know about the weekend retreat and were unaware that the fraternity was rushing pledges. The college also said it has a "zero tolerance policy" on hazing and the fraternity has been suspended.
Asked what steps colleges might take to minimize hazing incidents, Dr. Reich advised that on the first day of freshman orientation, school leaders and the officers of organizations could give a joint lecture: "If you are pledging, if there is any laying on of hands, if there is even a whiff of violence, we all ask you to get up and walk away." He said colleges should do more to publicize the fact that they will not tolerate any violence whatsoever, and will permanently expel anyone who subjects pledges to it.
When asked if alcohol adds to the hazing equation, Dr. Reich said alcohol disinhibits people and they do things that they would never do in a sober state. "Your question is interesting because you used the phrase adds something to the equation, when in fact alcohol subtracts something, which is a sense of inhibition about the appropriateness of action," Dr. Reich said. In the death of Deng, investigators say alcohol does not appear to be a factor.
Asked why there seems to be this need to bully the pledges during hazings, to put them through hell and back before they can become members. Dr. Reich said, "The bullying aspects of the hazing process on the part of the fraternity members is for some of them a manifestation of an ego weakness. Now that I (the bullier) have power over you, I will demonstrate how strong I am and therefore how weak you are."
Reich told CBS 2 New York that students continue to submit to hazing because of the basic human need to fit in, to belong.
Dr. Reich, who is also an attorney, directs the Forensic Psychology Group, a team of leading providers of forensic psychological and psychiatric expert services. He testifies as an expert witness in courtrooms around the nation and is widely known for his expertise in criminal, employment discrimination, civil, and immigration cases.