I want to say I am horrified by what happened at Cornell's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on the night of  Oct. 26 of last year. I am, but I'm not surprised. 

I'm a guy, a grown man now, but I grew up around the culture of alcohol that perpetrated Antonio's death. I just can't be silent.  

These "Christmas in October" allegations reveal an intensity and fanaticism that fraternities will use during the hazing process of their recruits. The seven rooms that Antonio had to enter, drinking an insane amount of alcohol in a different manner in each one, was not a hazing incident. They were not a test of an 18 year old's ability to handle alcohol. They were not  a glimpse into how desperate Antonio was to be a member of Kappa Psi. And it wasn't a "prank" or "traditional ritual" for the amusement of the fraternity brothers.

It was torture. Plain and simple. And no one is speaking up.

I'm a big man, and was a big 18-year-old, 6’3” and 220 lbs at the time. I could  consume large quantities of beer, 12 to 15 at a time, and not appear intoxicated, to use the polite word. I didn't suspect in 1970, or want to know, that this "high tolerance" for alcohol was an early sign of alcoholism. (I stopped drinking in 1989.)

But the amount of alcohol that the boys of Kappa Psi, in their seven rooms of “Christmas in October,” poured down the mouth of these young "recruits" was not just "large quantities of beer." It was a life threatening, physically, and mentally dangerous amount of a substance that could, and does, kill people. It was in "The Santa Claus Room," the fifth room Antonio had to enter, after he had already played drinking games of pong, had his head dunked into a bucket of water, chugged wine, consumed rum as fast as possible, had alcohol forced down his throat, and then after his visit with Santa, required to drink a whole bottle of vodka!, before going to mercifully (I use this term lightly) being allowed to go to the final room for a night cap of a few shots with whip cream.

That some of these freshman were intoxicated or black out drunk is not only a given, but they needed immediate hospitalization. But of course no one at Kappa Psi had the good sense or courage to do that, or put a stop to this dangerous behavior. They didn't even provide them help back to their dorms—just let them wander off I guess. Antonio appears to have wandered off. Blind drunk most certainly, at night in an unfamiliar environment, alone (maybe), and he ends up dead.

Over three months later, we have not heard a peep from anybody at Phi Kappa Psi. No one has come forward, even with a $10,000 reward offered by Antonio's grieving parents. The money shouldn't matter. This is worse than Senate Republicans in the President's impeachment trial. Can we do the right thing here, guys? 

I understand you are scared, young and sworn to secrecy. "You were never here. No phones. No videos. No photographs." This was the party line. But a young man is dead. It easily could have been any of the freshman at this unauthorized event. It could have been you.

I was an eyewitness to a similar awful fraternity event at Cornell almost 40 years ago. This stuff's not new. I tagged along with my girlfriend,who was singing at a party at one of the frats. After a while I noticed something about the whole event that seemed... creepy. It was. Upon asking one of the members what was going on, he quite candidly told me that this was an annual event. The object was to invite as many, and I have to choose my words carefully here, not the most attractive women from Wells College as possible to the party. Whichever fraternity brother was seen to have had intercourse with a woman judged the least attractive of the invitees, was the winner. He got a trophy.

It goes further back. My father Robert Mann, Cornell Engineering School, class of 1939, was a proud member of Sigma Nu. He recalled several hazing tales at Cornell. Once a different fraternity took a perspective pledge down to the suspension/foot bridge over Fall Creek at night, propped him up on the railing blindfolded but facing in toward the walking surface and then told him to jump. Obviously terrified, the young man quickly turned around and jumped to his death into the gorge.  

This is basically at least involuntary manslaughter, but nothing came of it, and this needless, insensitive hazing has gone on and on, and on, and on...

I read that Cornell President Martha Pollack took steps to discipline Phi Kappa Psi, and change its policies toward fraternities after Antonio's death. And they seem sensible and tough. But the day before the party that tortured Antonio was held, Kappa Psi was in a judicial hearing for a previous offense. They were put on interim suspension. Interim.

Cornell, like all universities, talks about being leaders. They graduate leaders. The guys in the Cornell frat houses probably think they are leaders, or aspire to be. “We're so important that we can ignore the rules and use our macho attitudes to put younger guys through hell if they want to join us. It's a privilege. We deserve to do this.”

But someone needs to lead now. Right now, or there will be more Antonios. The Phi Kappa Psi house should be abandoned and their members kicked out of Cornell.

There is no excuse for torturing people. And please, someone in that fraternity house show some courage and speak up. It may hurt you now, but for the rest of your life you will know you helped in some way to right a wrong.

Oh, there will be more lawsuits, maybe even criminal indictments, I get it, it's scary. But there is  someone out there who can make a difference. We need some courage these days. Do the right thing.

(1) comment

Hardy Griffin

Thank you for this excellent article -- you are absolutely right that these deadly, horrendous practices need to be put to a stop, both at Cornell and at other universities. If that means shutting down the whole 'Greek' system, so be it -- better that than the loss of more lives.

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