By Mikai Bruce
Nearly 21 years ago, in March of 2003, Walter Dean Jennings III died after rushing the Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity and being hazed as a part of that process.
Jennings died due to hyponatremia, which is the result of drinking too much water. He was held in a hot room for multiple days and he drank so much water that his brain swelled, which ultimately led to his untimely demise. Jennings’ death sent shockwaves through the community and highlighted the troubles that come along with hazing.
Sept. 28, there was a candlelight vigil in remembrance of not only Jennings, but also dozens of other victims of hazing.
Rich Cantwell, the prosecutor who handled the Jennings case spoke at this vigil and he provided many anecdotes about what it was like to handle such a polarizing case. Cantwell mentioned how he seeked the strictest punishment possible when he handled the case and he shared words of gratitude for the turnout this event garnered. Onlookers were invited to grab and light a candle and join together for a moment of silence for all the victims of hazing.
Noah Lewis, a senior history education major, said that holding events such as the vigil is crucial when asked what are some steps he thinks can be taken to end hazing. Awareness is an important step in order to eradicate the culture of hazing because a lot of people don’t even view hazing as a dangerous act.
“Nowadays I think everybody realizes this is wrong, it is violent, it is not good, it should not be perpetuated, I think there’s been significant improvement,” Cantwell said.
There has definitely been more awareness towards the dangers of hazing and it is less acceptable in society now than it was in previous years. Disassociating hazing with fraternities is a part of this process.
“I think it gets the word out there that people in the community want to make a change and if we keep having these events and spreading awareness about what hazing is and how detrimental it can be to the community and the campus and society, I think it will really get everyone together to understand that we need to make a change,” Saveria Somma said.
The vigil was an example of how a community coming together can be a powerful moment and also a teaching moment. Hazing culture has not yet been eradicated, but there have been many strides made towards that goal and events like these make a future without hazing more possible.