College deaths not always accidents
Reports of young men and sometimes young women injured, sometimes fatally, at college fraternity activities seem to be regular occurrences. Give higher education officials credit for cracking down with actions ranging from shutting fraternities down to expelling students. No doubt that has helped, but the “Animal House” mentality continues to prevail at some campus organizations.
Seven members of a fraternity now banned at Ohio University, along with two other people, may be about to experience punishment beyond what any college or university can mete out. On Nov. 12, an 18-year-old OU student, Collin Wiant, collapsed and died at the Sigma Pi fraternity. He ingested so much nitrous oxide that he was asphyxiated.
As The Columbus Dispatch reported, the gas was inhaled from a canister in a practice known as whippiting. The Dispatch’s investigation disclosed that during the past 15 years, at least 80 deaths on college and university campuses have been results of misbehavior, including hazing of pledges, by fraternities.
Last month, Athens County Prosecuting Attorney Keller Blackburn asked a grand jury for and got indictments against seven Sigma Pi members and two other people, all on charges related to Wiant’s death. About a month before that, 18 members of a Miami University fraternity were indicted on charges, including assault related to hazing. Good. All those indicted are innocent until proven guilty, of course. And beyond any reasonable doubt, none of those involved in Wiant’s death meant for him to die. But he did.
More and more, law enforcement authorities are deciding that what happens on campus should not always stay on campus. That is, they are treating crimes not as “boys will be boys” situations but as misbehavior that needs to be punished. Good. College students like to be viewed as young men and women. The overwhelming majority show such maturity. Those who do not, and put lives at risk in the process, need to be held to account. Perhaps that will serve as a lesson to others in fraternities whose idea of a good time is harming other people — and sometimes, putting their very lives at risk.