Cornell Students Acquitted in Fatal Hazing Case
But the frat involved has been shut down—and the tragic incident draws attention to a national problem.
Three former Cornell University undergraduates and members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity have been found not guilty of hazing George Desdunes—a sophomore who died after being forced to drink vodka during a frat hazing ritual last spring. Max Haskin, Ben Mann and Edward Williams were acquitted of the misdemeanors of hazing in the first degree and unlawfully dealing alcohol to a minor. The fraternity itself, however, was found guilty—it faces a $12,000 fine and its Cornell branch has been shut down. Desdunes, a 19-year-old pre-med student from Brooklyn, was taken to an off-campus house, blindfolded, bound and quizzed about the history of the fraternity by Haskin, Mann and Williams. When he answered a question incorrectly, he was told to drink vodka. After reportedly vomiting and continuing to drink, Desdunes ultimately passed out. An autopsy revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.356—more than four times the legal limit for driving. Andrew Bonavia, the prosecutor in the case, said "regardless of this decision, we hope that people are going to be bringing their friends, their fraternity brothers, to the hospital if they participate in an event that makes them that sick.”
The fatal incident draws attention to a common problem on college campuses across the country in which students are often encouraged to partake in dangerous drinking rituals while being inducted into fraternities and sororities. A rising sophomore from Cornell's Greek community tells The Fix that this hazing incident was not shocking: "I think SAE has had their issues with drinking. The school knows they drink, they know they haze, but it’s nothing jaw-dropping.” As for the future of Cornell's Greek life, she maintains that the environment will be "100% different [but] this one, terrible incident is not an accurate reflection of who we are."