25 years later, Missouri hazing death consequences remain
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Twenty-five years after Michael Davis died from injuries suffered in a brutal fraternity hazing ritual at Southeast Missouri State University, his death still has far-reaching consequences.
Davis was pledging the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity when he died from internal bleeding on Feb. 15, 1994, after collapsing a day earlier. The autopsy found fractured ribs, lung, liver and kidney damage, a bruised and bleeding heart, and spinal hemorrhaging.
More than a dozen men associated with Kappa Alpha Psi, a traditionally black fraternity, were prosecuted, including seven for involuntary manslaughter. Sentences ranged from probation to incarceration. The fraternity was banned from Southeast.
The Southeast Missourian reports the fallout included legislation in Missouri creating a felony for serious hazing, and national scrutiny of fraternity hazing practices.
At a memorial service in February 1994, Edith Davis said her son was a kind soul.
“He couldn’t kill a spider,” she said. She called the hazing “cold-blooded murder.”
In 1996, the Kappa Alpha Psi national organization paid $2.25 million to Davis’ parents as part of a lawsuit.
A quarter-century later, Davis’ death has faded into the background of campus history. But it remains a personal tragedy for Tamara Zellars Buck, a faculty member in the mass media department, who worked with Davis on the campus newspaper.
She recalled when the staff learned of his death.
“We were sitting here trying to process that our friend was dead,” Buck said.
The lives of Kappa Alpha Psi members were damaged, too. One member, who was not involved in the hazing, received death threats and withdrew from SEMO, Buck said.
Southeast, like most universities, now works hard to educate fraternity and sorority members about the dangers of hazing. Few cases rise to criminal level, but SEMO handles student code violations through its own judicial system. Sanctions can range up to expulsions.
Students are required to sign an anti-hazing statement.
Sonia Rucker, dean of students and assistant to the president for equity and diversity, tells students “we are a campus that has experienced the worst consequence of hazing, so we are going to be extremely vigilant.”
Over the past six years, students were found to have violated the anti-hazing policy in four cases, according to the university’s website. One of those was Phi Beta Sigma, a traditionally African-American fraternity. In 2015, its charter was suspended for three years. Details of the violation were not disclosed.
Xavier Payne, president of the fraternity’s Southeast chapter, said that even all these years later, Davis’ death should send a message that students should never accept abuse to join an organization. “It is not worth it,” he said.
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com