Skip to main content

5 shocking hazing rituals that turned deadly

The entrance sign at Bowling Green State University
Image: 20-year-old student Stone Foltz died after taking part in a hazing ritual at Bowling Green State University | Bryan Pollard /

Humiliating, degrading and dangerous initiation rituals are a fact of life in often-venerated institutions across the US, despite anti-hazing laws being in place throughout much of the country. Here are five examples of how hazing rituals can get very badly out of hand.

1. Robert Champion

The marching band at Florida A&M University dates back to the 19th century and has become a revered American institution, performing at the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and at the inaugurations of US presidents. But in 2011, an insidious culture of violent hazing was exposed, when a 26-year-old drum major was beaten to death as part of a ritual known as ‘crossing over’.

Shortly after the band put on a stellar performance at a college football game, Robert Champion was keen to finally win the respect of his peers by undergoing the ritual, which meant trying to cross from the front to the back of a bus while bandmates beat him with their fists, feet and straps.

Champion scrambled through the volley of blows, with one witness saying someone hung from a luggage rack and stomped on him. Champion collapsed moments after making it through this gauntlet and later died in hospital from extensive internal bleeding. The scandalous incident led to several band members being handed either prison terms or periods of probation and community service, and the band itself was put on ice for almost 22 months.

2. Chun ‘Michael’ Deng

Hazing rituals in the US have been particularly linked with Greek-lettered student fraternities. In 2013, the Asian-American fraternity Pi Delta Psi hit the headlines when a prospective member, 18-year-old Chun ‘Michael’ Deng, died during one typically violent ceremony.

A student at New York’s Baruch College, Deng was keen to join Pi Delta Psi, and that meant breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. In other words, pushing through a line of fraternity brothers while blindfolded and wearing a 14kg backpack. Deng was reportedly tackled, kicked and knocked out during the endeavour. His speech became slurred and he then went eerily still.

It was later alleged that, while Deng lay unconscious, other members tried to hide banners, paddles and other items linked to the fraternity, in what one official described as an ‘active cover-up’. Instead of immediately calling an ambulance, they googled terms like ‘concussion can’t wake up’ and ‘pupils don’t dilate’.

Deng was eventually taken to hospital, where he died from his injuries. Dozens of frat members were charged in connection to the death, with a core contingent given prison terms.

3. Stone Foltz

A 20-year-old student at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, Stone Foltz became another tragic victim of a Greek fraternity hazing ritual in 2021. This time, death occurred not because of violent trauma, but alcohol intoxication.

As part of the pledging process for Pi Kappa Alpha, one of the oldest and most prestigious fraternities in the United States, Foltz had to undertake what is known as ‘Big Little Night’. This involved being taken to a frat house, blindfolded with his tie and led into the basement.

Here, Foltz and fellow prospective members were subjected to a barrage of music and pushed around by active members. They were then ordered to each drink an entire bottle of hard spirits – in Foltz’s case, whisky - which he finished in less than 20 minutes.

Feeling sick and unable to walk, Foltz was taken back to his own place, where concerned friends called for an ambulance. Foltz was placed on life support and died a few days later – a tragedy that led to the suspension of numerous students and prison sentences being handed out to key orchestrators of the incident.

4. Tim Piazza

In 2017, Tim Piazza was a 19-year-old student at Pennsylvania State University when he made a fateful bid to join the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. This meant undergoing the ‘Gauntlet’, a kind of booze-fuelled obstacle course where pledges drank copious amounts of vodka, beer and wine while running around the frat house and being doused with more beer by cheering spectators.

Having ingested an incredible amount of alcohol, Tim fell down a flight of stairs. Frat brothers tried to rouse him by slapping him and positioning him so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit. There was a sustained failure to seek help, even though the semi-conscious Piazza was clearly in a dreadful state, repeatedly falling and crashing violently into things.

Doctors later discovered he had serious brain trauma, a ruptured spleen and other injuries. His death led to one of the biggest ever hazing prosecutions in American history, with several frat members jailed and the state of Pennsylvania passing an anti-hazing law named after Piazza.

5. Marvell Edmondson and Jauwan Holmes

Another hazing ritual went dramatically wrong in 2013 when 19-year-old Virginia State University students Marvell Edmonson and Jauwan Holmes made the bold attempt to cross the Appomattox River. They were expected to make the crossing to join an unofficial, unsanctioned university social club called Men of Honor.

The nighttime excursion had a terrible denouement when both Edmondson and Holmes were swept away in the raging rapids. Their drowned bodies were recovered soon after. What made the case even more egregious was the fact that the teenagers had both told the social club that they couldn’t swim but were expected to make the crossing anyway. A group of members were later handed prison terms for their part in the tragedy that unfolded in the river.