Title IX is typically known as a gender discrimination prevention tool, but one family is trying to use it for something else.
The parents of Maxwell Gruver, an LSU fraternity pledge who died from alleged hazing last year, have filed a lawsuit against the LSU Board of Supervisors, as the family seeks $25 million in damages for the university’s neglect of Title IX law.
This is the first time Title IX is being used as an argument against hazing.
The lawsuit, coinciding with LSU Police Department police reports, alleges Maxwell was forced to take 10 to 12 pulls of 190-proof liquor during a “Bible Study” hazing event, where pledges had to drink after each incorrect answer about the fraternity.
Phi Delta Theta brothers allegedly left Gruver unconscious on a fraternity couch at midnight, until pledges brought him to the emergency room the next morning. Gruver’s blood alcohol content was .495, six times over the state's legal limit.
The Gruver family claims LSU dismissed an ongoing culture of fraternity hazing within the university as “boys being boys,” while also imposing harsh punishments against sororities, where hazing is typically considered an anomaly.
“LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given 'Total Probation' by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority,” a press release from the Max Gruver Foundation said. “While Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.”
Ion Outterbridge, the director of UNC's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in an email that the University holds fraternities and sororities to equal standards for hazing violations.
“All fraternities and sororities are held to the Honor Code of the University, the same code of conduct all students are held to," Outterbridge said in an email. "Fraternities and sororities must also comply with the guidelines set forth by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the bylaws of their national organization and the University Alcohol Policy.”
A sophomore UNC fraternity brother, who wished to keep himself and his fraternity anonymous, said hazing is central to the pledging process at his fraternity. He said speaking to anyone outside the fraternity about hazing results in expulsion from the University chapter, and brothers are normally given a script on what to tell those who ask.
He said hazing is now milder than the stories he has heard from seniors and graduates, but it still was significantly worse than what he had expected and what brothers told him before he accepted his bid.
He said pledges were hazed once a week in a “line-up,” until “hell week” — the last week before initiation — in which line-ups occurred every day.
“Looking back, it’s a memory you want to forget, so I’ve honestly tried to forget and suppress the details,” he said. “Mostly it’s eating and drinking really disgusting things, combined with physical exertion, until you throw up. On the milder side, we’d have cleaning shifts and just have to act subservient to brothers.”
He said he thinks the continuation of hazing at fraternities is primarily rooted in tradition and equity, and that he doubts brothers will ever take the initial step to end hazing completely.
“It’s a mixture of our history and just fairness," he said. "Like if I went through all of this, why would I stop it here?”
The Gruver family hopes the lawsuit can prompt other universities to take a look at their hazing policies.
"A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives," Douglas Fierberg, the family's attorney, said.
Two fraternity members entered pleas in September, and a third is set to have a trial in July 2019.
Until then, Title IX's impact on hazing is unclear.