But deaths elsewhere continued — despite efforts by universities, fraternities and others.
At Louisiana State University in September, a pledge died after an event at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. At Pennsylvania State University in February, a 19-year-old sophomore died after a pledging event.
The Baruch College case is significant because the fraternity — Pi Delta Psi — is being held directly responsible for the death, said Emily Pualwan, executive director of HazingPrevention.Org, a nonprofit advocating for reform on college campuses.
“Often, the argument is that the members acted on their own and against the national fraternity’s policies,” she said. “In this case, the prosecution is charging that the activities were part of the fraternity’s culture.”
The legal strategy is a relatively uncommon approach to what has been an intractable problem. “We have seen increased deaths over the past two decades, and there have been at least four known deaths that are directly related to hazing just this year,” Pualwan said.
But at the same time, she said, there is “a sharp raised awareness of hazing cases and a willingness for universities, national organizations, local law enforcement to act swiftly to protect students, investigate and file charges.”
A grand jury concluded that fraternity members at Baruch, a campus of the City University of New York, tackled and abused a blindfolded Deng, knocking him unconscious during a fraternity ritual in a rented house in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, and then tried to cover it up even as he lay dying.
Pi Delta Psi, an Asian American cultural fraternity, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a jury in November.
The fraternity was acquitted of the most serious offenses it faced — third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter — but was found guilty of aggravated assault, hazing, hindering apprehension and conspiracy.
Police charged 37 people with crimes relating to the case. Four defendants pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other charges. On Monday afternoon, they were sentenced to months in county jail, according to Kimberly Metzger, a Monroe County, Pa., prosecutor.
“Not one person out of 37 picked up a telephone and called an ambulance. I cannot wrap my head around it,” Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti-Worthington said in court, according to the Associated Press. “So there’s something greater going on here, and I think it’s probably really prevalent. We see across the country these issues in fraternities.”
The executive board of Pi Delta Psi expressed condolences to Deng’s family in a statement shared by the fraternity’s attorney, Niemoczynski, saying his death haunts every person who was a member of the national board at that time.
“They still grapple with the question of what they could have done to prevent it. They feel the shame and dishonor of having the fraternity’s then national president involved in the episode. They feel the shame and dishonor that a pledge educator and pledge assistant could allow this.”
They wrote that the recruitment of new members had suffered, harming the fraternity’s many volunteer efforts, and “bids have been declined with comments to the effect of ‘I don’t want to die.’”