Greek Life on Washington State University Campus – Public Concerns and Outcries

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Readers Weigh In | Letters Editor of The Seattle Times

‘Out of control’

I’m a member of a sorority at WSU and was a personal friend of Sam Martinez.

I can attest to the lack of regulations that WSU has regarding hazing. Those rushing fraternities are required to attend one or two classes on hazing that are a couple hours long before they join a house, but it all becomes irrelevant on bid day. Anyone you ask who is a member of the Greek community can name a horror story they’ve heard about Alpha Tau Omega.

Hazing is out of control at WSU, and the only thing that will help is if more people come forward and share their experiences and are willing to stand up against those who are doing the hazing. However, due to fear of being shunned or “dropped” from a house, nobody ever says anything. The Interfraternity Council needs to stop ignoring this issue as they have been for so long.

We all miss Sam dearly and hope nothing like this ever happens to anyone else.

Maddie Click, Redmond

Sororities vs. fraternities

My first year partaking in Greek life at WSU is the same year that Sam Martinez died due to hazing. This death was a rude awakening to the Pullman community as a whole.

Due to this tragic event, major changes were made to the Greek “partying” system. Hard alcohol was banned, weekday partying was banned, and members were strongly encouraged to report hazing whether it was inflicted upon themselves or another.

Personally, I have never experienced hazing, nor have I heard of another female who has been hazed at WSU. However, there is a common pattern of hazing among the male population of Greek life.

This leads me to question: What are the differences between male and female fraternities that create such a large gap in hazing occurrences? What policies can be put in place to realistically reduce hazing?

I also want to emphasize positive effects that Greek life has in the college setting. Volunteering, philanthropy events and sisterhood are all reasons I joined Greek life. Countless organizations benefit from sorority and fraternity fundraising events.

I hope to see positive changes in the community over the years to counteract the tarnished reputation that hazing has created.

Deirdre Hegarty, Ferndale

‘Collateral damage’

God bless Jolayne Houtz’s son, Sam, and the Houtz-Martinez family.

We lost our son Gordie Bailey in 2004 at the University of Colorado at Boulder and could have written the exact same words. Litigation followed, as well as the Gordie Center at the University of Virginia, and a movie called “HAZE” about his experience, college drinking and hazing.

As Houtz noted, it is all about the money. We need to make the current business model too expensive to operate. Unfortunately, we do not have leaders willing to do the right thing. How can we make board members liable together with college presidents? Today, there really are no consequences, and our sons are collateral damage in the business of brotherhood and education. Our sincerest condolences.

Leslie and Michael Lanahan, Dallas, Texas

‘Sad state of affairs’

My condolences to the Houtz-Martinez family. I was a member of a WSU fraternity from 1962-1966. The Greek system was strong, and ours was a respected house with an active alumni base. There was drinking, but it was controlled and allowed only at sanctioned social events.

In the early 1990s, I became the fraternity’s adviser. The culture had changed. Drinking was pervasive, and etiquette that had been a part of our training was no longer important. Since no drinking was allowed at sororities, it was expected that the fraternities pick up the slack, which they gladly did. My fraternity was no longer a prominent political and academic force. Since most upperclassmen lived off campus, the house’s leadership was predominantly underclassmen. I tried to discuss the issue with the house leadership and the alumni board, of which I was a member, with no result. As I recall, the only major change made by the university was a requirement that all students live in dorms their first year. I resigned.

It’s a sad state of affairs because I believe the Greek system can prepare young men and women to face the world more effectively, with strong social skills and values.

David J. Haining, Everett

Personal choices

I attended WSU from 1981 to 1985. I lived first in a dormitory as a freshman and an-off campus apartment as a sophomore before joining a fraternity as a junior.

There was no more or less alcohol use in the fraternity than I experienced in the dorm or off-campus housing. I studied hard, and I chose to party hard. My fraternity never forced me to drink, and I experienced no hazing.

The choices I made were my own. When I made wrong choices, and I made many, I owned them.

Ron Cox, Sammamish, Sigma Chi, WSU 1985

Pledge paddles

I, too, was briefly a member of the Greek system at Washington State University. I pledged Phi Kappa Sigma. Hazing and large consumption of alcohol were commonplace. During Rush Week, when freshmen tour the houses on Greek Row, you’re told about the various drinking traditions at each house. I recall asking about the pledge paddles adorning the walls and was told “they’re just for decoration.” The truth is, they’re not, they’re about the size of a cricket bat, and pledges are “paddled” with them. After each paddling, you’re supposed to say “Thank you sir, may I have another!”

I like some of the ideas in the Op-Ed about changes that should be made to the Greek system, including the alcohol ban on persons under 21 and having a live-in, non-Greek adult at all times.

I am a loyal Cougar, I love my alma mater, and I hope this tragedy leads to a better experience for all current and future Cougs, as well as students from other colleges and universities.

Karl Larsen, Fircrest

Return house mothers

My family has been involved in the Greek system since an ancestor founded one of the nation’s sororities at Monmouth College in Illinois in the 1870s.

Everyone in the older generations has talked about their house mothers and how that person was part of their college experience. At some point in the past, the position was eliminated. At my fraternity, we had no adult supervision and certainly could have used one to prevent us from making stupid mistakes.

Fraternity life was good to me. Years after I left college, my chapter disconnected from the alumni, and it went down the wrong path, but thankfully no one died. You can’t have a chapter without alumni support. All of those problems would have been prevented if they had an adult. Every Greek house with an off-campus house, regardless of size, should be required to have a house mother/dad who has completed the university’s resident adviser program.

Ed Niblock, Renton


The Greek system on American college campuses is not only harmful to its members for promulgating an insider-outsider, racist, sexist, substance-abuse culture, but the presence of these self-purported elitists, who earn their way into clubs by paying money and placating older members, affects non-Greeks and the climate of the university.

At the California State University from which I graduated, I avoided the front entrance of the student union, where frat boys rated the physical appearance of female passers-by, holding up score cards in black marker for all to see.

I will not send my child to a college that allows Greek life. I admire the courage of Sam Martinez’s family.

Tara Gilligan Reimer, Bellingham

Reduce drinking age

I was in a fraternity from ’98 to ’02. There were no effective rules in place to protect against hazing rituals such as binge drinking.

I think the drinking age should be reduced to 18 so young adults can learn to drink responsibly while still at home with their parents. Also, inappropriate hazing is typically directed by a select few. House members should be interviewed periodically to find and counsel individuals who treat others inappropriately.

Joseph Fitzgerald, Seattle

‘Overhaul the system’

I’m 63 years old. This exact same type of death occurred at the Alpha Tau Omega house at the University of Nevada-Reno while I was there in the late ’70s. That’s 40 years of alcohol poisonings and other deaths at this very fraternity.

Obviously, the power behind the fraternity system is extremely strong. But everything in the world is changing now. It’s time to finally speak truth to power and overhaul the system or end it. The “good” that the system does can no longer be used to justify and excuse all these deaths.

Cynthia Thomas, Seattle

‘Terrible’ experience

I pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1966 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The pledges had an event in the basement of the house where we were encouraged by the “brothers” to drink as much beer as we could consume. Some pledges were given hard liquor and ended up at UPenn Emergency to be treated for excess alcohol ingestion.

The basement fraternity room stunk of stale alcohol and left me with such a bad memory that I have had no interest in drinking any kind of beer since!

A terrible but thankfully not a fatal experience. I suspect most “pledges” have had a similar if not worse experience.

John Verrilli, M.D., retired, Seattle

End system

Like Sam’s experience and that of many others in the Greek system, my father joined a fraternity in law school. In a drinking ritual, he nearly died. Although he lived, our lives were shaped by the alcohol poisoning he experienced.

An “A” student, he had to quit law school in his last year. From the “brotherly” ritual until he died, he struggled with alcoholism. My father’s initiation ritual was more than 75 years ago.

When I finished my Ph.D., I only applied for jobs at universities that did not have a Greek system.

I am sorry for this family’s loss, and I strongly believe the Greek system should be ended. This will not stop binge drinking, but it could bring important structural change to the academic environment.

Sara Weir, Bellingham

‘Never looked back’

I joined a fraternity as a freshman at my college in 1970. As a pledge, we were pressured to drink large amounts of alcohol at ritualistic mandatory gatherings during pledge week.

I remember while a freshman and still living in the dorm, I was so intoxicated I had no motor coordination when stumbling back to my room from one of these off-campus fraternity gatherings. I was delirious and could not speak properly. My roommate and dorm mates were afraid of my condition but did not call for medical aid. They held me down on my bed for at least an hour to keep me from trying to get up and walk around as I was screaming and incoherent. I clearly had alcohol poisoning at the time and was lucky to survive.

I left one day with all my stuff and moved out without notice to anyone. I never looked back.

Scott Lawrence, Seattle

Safety for grandson

My heart hurts for this family and the loss of their beautiful son. Why are these actions still happening in our colleges and universities?

My beloved grandson will be entering college in September. I’m glad he will not be attending WSU — but are other universities any different? Are other locations safer for our beautiful students? I so wish I could be assured behaviors are better in other locations.

Campus police and university/College presidents: Pay attention to what is happening on your campus. Change what needs changing, and make your campus safer and healthier for our students entrusted to your care.

Please, please, assure this Nana that her grandson will be safe and healthy on your turf.

Mary Kathryn Myers, Kent

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