It’s not as if a Penn State campus needs another internal investigation, but one in ongoing at Altoona in the wake of a suicide that has fraternity hazing overtures. And while PSU-Altoona is not on as hot a seat as the Greek organization to which the deceased belonged, a joint internal probe by the school and Phi Sigma Kappa would be a terrific idea, from an operational and strategic front. Indeed, even the victim’s father would seem to be inclined ensure familial cooperation to the effort.
This regrettable story began long before the death of Marquise Braham, a freshman at PSU-Altoona this year.
Rich Braham, managing editor at ABC News in New York, described his son as a wonderful, kind soul, who was loved by all who knew him. His life ended tragically, when he threw himself off a Marriott Hotel on Long Island last week. A freshman majoring in biomedical engineering that had a partial scholarship and was studying to be a resident assistant, Marquise was just 18 years old.
His father told The Daily Collegian that his son pledged Phi Sigma Kappa during the fall semester and became a brother in the spring. Rich Braham and his wife were not thrilled with their son joining a fraternity; they preferred him to concentrate on his studies instead. As to that Greek life and his son’s death:
“[Although] his son never told him about having trouble with the fraternity, [Rich Braham and his wife] have since read text messages between Marquise and friends about problems regarding hazing. ‘He never spoke about the hazing process to me very much,’ Braham said.
He said his son told a friend from high school about hazing, including games where pledges had to drink until they vomited, a process that was repeated multiple times.
Braham said he’s also read in the text messages about other instances of hazing involving cocaine use, smoking marijuana and having to rob a store for a small item like a bag of chips while wearing a ski mask.
There have also been texts the family read that show there were competitions involving drugs and alcohol between other fraternities, Braham said.
Marquise did not show signs of being suicidal while home on winter break, he said. But his father said there are text messages that show Marquise not wanting to have to go back and have to haze others, to become their ‘torturers,’ now that he was a fraternity brother.
On Tuesday, March 11, during spring break, Marquise became intoxicated and tried to jump from the [Long Island Marriott] hotel roof, but passed out and wound up going to the hospital, Braham said. Even hours later, Braham said his son’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit and doctors said it could have killed him.
[Mother and father] thought maybe their son had a drinking problem and spoke with him about it, Braham said. Marquise had lunch with his mom that Friday and Braham said they had a ‘wonderful’ lunch, but it was later that night when he again went to the hotel, this time taking his life.
‘He then went back to the Marriott Hotel, and he jumped,’ Braham said. ‘I think he didn’t want to go back to Penn State, and he jumped.’”
In the immediate aftermath of Marquise’s death, the Logan Township Police Department began investigating possible criminal implications and Chief Ron Heller confirmed that his department would also look into any correlation between Marquise’s death and the fraternity.
PSU-Altoona put the fraternity on suspension the following day, after announcing that is possessed “sufficient evidence and information” that the school’s code of conduct had been broken. Spokeswoman Shari Routch also indicated that the university would ‘[support] the authorities as they conduct their investigations into this matter,’ which doesn’t sound like the school is conducting its own inquiry into what occurred and why.
Michael Carey, executive vice president of Phi Sigma Kappa, told CNN.com that the national fraternity was ‘aware of the serious allegations’ against its members; urged those members to cooperate with law enforcement officials, and was also was conducting an internal investigation. By whom and from where was not made know.
All this said, it would be a very good idea for PSU-Altoona and Phi Sigma Kappa to join forces and conduct a vigorous probe to identify breakdowns –if any – in each of their codes of conduct and then take remedial steps to correct any endemic issues that might permit a tragedy such as this to occur again. This would maximize cooperation leverage and likely get to some real truths about what happened, how, and why.
Further, it would likely garner voluntary cooperation by those in the circle of Braham family and friends who are not members of the PSU-Altoona and Phi Sigma Kappa students but have valuable evidence in this matter. Rich Braham’s point in speaking out has been and continues to be in order to get to the truth. He said, “I’m not just a grieving dad, I’m trying to save lives by going to the public.”
All three of these interested parties working together can get to that truth and benefit all of their causes.