Sunday, September 14, 2014

Democrats Throw A Lifeline To J.D. Ford's Senate Campaign, Too Bad His Fraternity Employer Isn't As Generous To Its Hazing Victims

The Indiana Democratic Party has already sent out two direct mail pieces to voters in District 29 hitting incumbent State Sen. Mike Delph for the public disagreement he aired with the Senate Republican leadership over its handling of a proposed amendment to HJR-3 concerning civil unions to boost the candidacy of Delph's Democratic opponent, newcomer J.D. Ford. The mailings claim that Delph's Twitter communications were "so bizarre and over the top," the Senate Republican leadership stripped him of his leadership position. In truth, Senate President David Long punished Delph for publicly discussing the debate within the Senate Republican caucus in violation of caucus rules, a rule some would argue is anathema to sunshine laws intended to keep elected officials actions' transparent to the public.

While Democrats appear poised to offer J.D. Ford as many lifelines as his uphill campaign against Delph may require, a closer look at the work he does in his day job raises serious questions about how committed he and his employer are to offering lifelines to young college men in distress. For the past three years, Ford has served as Director of Recruitment and Expansion for Theta Chi Fraternity based in Indianapolis. That appears to be the only regular full-time job the 32-year old Ford, who is single and openly gay, has held according to his LinkedIn profile other than a little more than the three years he spent as a graduate assistant and residential education assistant director at Purdue University-Calumet. It appears Ford, who is originally from Akron, Ohio, only moved into Delph's district when he started work at Theta Chi in 2011.

Around the time Ford joined the staff of Theta Chi, the fraternity was in the process of implementing a major national policy change intended to stem its declining membership according to Bloomberg. In 1998, Theta Chi voted to go alcohol-free. The fraternity's former executive director, Dave Westol, told Bloomberg that "it was the best thing we ever did." Westol left the fraternity in 2006 after its membership at universities and colleges across the country had fallen from 5,911 in 1998 to 4,664. In 2010, the fraternity's board voted to once again allow alcohol at fraternity houses and Ford joined the fraternity shortly thereafter to head up its recruitment and expansion efforts. With drinking permitted once again, Theta Chi's membership rebounded to 6,800 as of a year ago. Theta Chi's executive director told Bloomberg that declining membership had nothing to do with the change in the fraternity's policy towards alcohol.

Philip Dhanens
Just as the 2013 school year kicked off, an 18-year old pledge at Theta Chi's Fresno State University chapter died of acute alcohol poisoning in a suspected hazing incident. Philip Dahnens drank the equivalent of 37 shots of alcohol while being egged on by the fraternity brothers he wanted to join. Three fraternity members, including the chapter's president, faced criminal charges after an investigation of Dhanens death found that his blood alcohol level rose to 0.40% during a fraternity party before he died. Dhanens had been taken into a so-called "Drunk Room" filled with bottle of alcohol, along with other pledges, and told not to come out until they had finished off all the alcohol. Dhanens passed out in a chair. A few hours later, he was taken to the hospital emergency room after he started vomiting, turned pale and then stopped breathing.

Unfortunately, Dhanens' death wasn't an isolated incident. In 2008, another 19-year old Theta Chi pledge at Lenoir-Rhyne university died during "Hell Week" hazing. Harrison Kowiak, who was attending college on a golf scholarship, was taken to a pasture with other pledges and forced to run a gauntlet known as "bulldogging" in order to retrieve "sacred fraternity rocks." Fraternity members dressed in black would push, shove and tackle them as they attempted to reach the rocks at the other end of the pasture. At a certain point, Kowiak could no longer take it. He was ordered to get up and walk, which he did until he collapsed. Fraternity members drove him to a local medical center where they lied about how he had been injured. Kowiak was later flown to a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina where he later died from blunt force trauma injuries to his head. His body was covered with bruises and abrasions. Kowiak's mother helped spearhead federal anti-hazing legislation that would deny student aid to students who participate in hazing. The legislation's sponsor backed off under pressure from fraternity's influential political action committee on Capitol Hill known as the FratPAC.

Closer to home, 19-year old Seth Korona died after he suffered a skull fracture during a party at the Theta Chi chapter house on Indiana University's campus in Bloomington in 2001. Korona fell while doing a keg stand after consuming a significant amount of beer and Everclear at a rush party. Although he lost consciousness after he fell, fraternity members never sought medical help for him. Instead, they dumped him off at his dorm, leaving it up to his dorm mates to try to figure out that he had suffered a severe skull fracture. When he was later taken to Bloomington Hospital for treatment, he was misdiagnosed with meningitis. If doctors had known that he had suffered a severe blow to his head, a Monroe Co. Coroner's report indicated they may have been able to save his life.

A Theta Chi fraternity chapter at San Diego University was kicked off of campus in November, 2008, along with several other fraternities, as part of a year-long campus-wide drug investigation by federal, state and local authorities known as Operation Sudden Fall following student overdoses. Fraternity officials refused to comment on the revocation earlier this year of a local chapter on Mississippi State University's campus amidst allegations of fraternity hazing there after 75 years at MSU. In 1997, a 17-year old Theta Chi pledge, Binaya Oja, at Clarkson University died from asphyxiation after he and other pledges sat in a circle and drank to unconsciousness. Oja choked to death on his own vomit.

When Theta Chi is faced with lawsuits over hazing and alcohol deaths, its national board always emphasizes that its organization's guidelines prohibits underage consumption of alcohol and hazing. The fraternity also says it provides education and resources to its chapter leaders on responsible alcohol use and hazing prevention. Yet the fraternity still allows chapters to have alcohol at their houses knowing that pledges and many members are underage. That's not any different than most other fraternities' national organizations, which appear to have been careful to insulate themselves from any liability as much as possible from the actions of their chapters. That was the case here in Indiana when the Indiana Supreme Court refused to allow a national fraternity for Phi Kappa Psi to be held liable for the actions of its local chapter at Wabash College in a hazing incident that caused injuries to an 18-year old  pledge. In Bloomberg's report, "Frats Worse Than Animal House Fail to Pay For Casualties," it observed that national fraternities have been largely successful in shielding their liability for their chapters' actions despite the fact that a great deal of the members' money flows to the national organization. "The nonprofit organizations often protect their growing wealth by insulating themselves from legal and financial responsibility for a wave of alcohol and hazing-related deaths and injuries," Bloomberg reported.

It's obvious that Ford's campaign intends to make a big issue out of Sen. Delph's conservative political philosophy and strong Christian convictions, including his opposition to same-sex marriages. So I suppose it's only fair that his work heading up recruiting at Theta Chi is fair game as he touts his civic contributions to bolster his campaign to oust Delph if "family values" is going to be the focus of this campaign.


Anonymous said...

This discussion didn't mention the groupthink poison with which fraternities infect their members.

Years after college, fraternity scum can be counted on to do exactly as instructed by a larger group or power structure.

Veracity said...

Under your logic, since you have chosen to align yourself with Mike Delph, I guess that means you are also against same sex marriage which is pretty damn odd.

Delph's personal beliefs on topics such as same sex marriage are at issue because he has advocated for a constitutional amendment and statute that prohibits same sex marriage and which prohibits the recognition of same sex marriages lawfully entered in other states. If Ford had supported legislation that had something to do with the fraternity, then that would be a story. This is not the case here because Ford has not yet served in the legislature (but I so hope he gets to replace Delph).

I really cannot believe you are supporting a candidate who has been outspoken in his support the constitutional amendment against same sex marriage.