Fraternity roughhousing at Wabash College Phi Kappa Psi not hazing, Indiana Court of Appeals rules
Freshman pledge rendered unconscious by members
12:45 PM, Oct 3, 2012
1:00 PM, Oct 3, 2012
A Wabash College freshman who was rendered unconscious and dropped by his fraternity brothers as they tried to throw him in a shower was not hazed, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
Brian Yost, a then-18-year-old freshman, was pledging the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the all-male college in September 2007 when he took part in "creeking" an upperclassman, a practice involving throwing a member into nearby Sugar Creek, court documents show.
When the fraternity members got back to the house, four upperclassmen brothers decided to carry Yost to the shower and run water on him, a common pledging practice, according to court documents.
But Yost fought back, so another upperclassman put him in a chokehold, causing him to lose consciousness, according to the ruling.
Frightened when Yost's body went limp, the upperclassmen dropped the new pledge, causing him "physical and mental injuries," he said. He later withdrew from Wabash.
Yost filed suit against Wabash College, the national Phi Kappa Psi organization, which is based in Indianapolis, and the local fraternity chapter, along with the fraternity member who put him in a chokehold.
But a trial court ruled against Yost on the grounds that the school and the fraternity "owed him no duty to protect him from the activities that led to the injuries," according to the ruling.
The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the ruling this week.
"Yost was not a victim of hazing under Indiana's anti-hazing statute or of other foreseeable criminal conduct," the court ruled. "There may be circumstances in which the challenged conduct is not necessarily criminal and not necessarily hazing, but when a college and/or fraternity have created an inherently dangerous environment. … This is not one of those circumstances."
While the court argued that colleges and fraternities cannot ignore dangerous activities on its campus, it said that such institutions are "not guarantors or insurers of their adult student-members' safety."
A dissenting judge in the case argued that because "creekings" and "showerings" are outlined in the pledge manual as "Indiana Gamma (chapter) Traditions," it implies that those activities are sanctioned by the chapter.
He cited 15 reported instances of hazing at Wabash since the early 2000s, including two student deaths and three others that involved the Phi Kappa Psi house, as "sufficient evidence to create the reasonable inference that the hazing was foreseeable in Wasbash's fraternity houses."
"Instead of taking a hard line against hazing, a reasonable inference from the designated evidence is that Wabash even encouraged such behavior by doing such things as failing to recognize hazing as hazing," the dissenting judge wrote. "This also suggests that Wabash has a pattern of turning a blind eye to hazing on its campus, thereby breaching its duty as a landowner to Yost."
Wabash did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. A Phi Kappa Psi representative said the president of the fraternity was traveling but that he would provide a statement on the ruling.