More than 4,000 MU Greek students listened as Rae Ann Gruver and Evelyn Piazza each recounted one of the worst moments of their lives.
Both women lost their sons in fraternity hazing-related incidents. They visited MU to express to students exactly how dangerous hazing can be.
After these tragic experiences, the two women started the Anti-Hazing Coalition, which is dedicated to talking to students about the reality of hazing. They call their talk “Love, Mom and Dad.” They presented their stories at the Mizzou Arena to members of the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association Wednesday night.
“Let me tell you about my son Max,” Gruver said. She recounted how fond he was of sports, journalism and rap music, as the arena’s scoreboard filled with a picture of the two hugging.
Gruver said that picture was the last time she was able to look him in the eyes and tell him that she loved him. Twenty-nine days later, he died at the LSU fraternity chapter of Phi Delta Theta after a night of hazing that involved a fatal amount of alcohol.
Piazza’s son Tim, who was attending Penn State, also died after sustaining injuries at the Beta Theta Pi chapter house on the first night of pledging.
“What happened?” said Piazza. “He was an amazing person who was hazed.”
The mothers presented the dangers of hazing, including the legal side of the problem. In Missouri, hazing is considered a class A misdemeanor. But if it creates a “substantial risk to life,” it’s a class D felony. Both include potential fines and jail time.
While hazing is a nationwide issue, there is no official list of hazing-related deaths in the United States. Hank Nuwer, a professor of journalism at Franklin College, who has been studying hazing for decades, has compiled data which shows at least one hazing-related death in the US per year since 1959.
Matt Eblen, president of the Interfraternity Council, says he saw the “Love, Mom and Dad” talk at an annual conference and knew they needed to come present at MU.
“When there are these incidents, they kind of tend to stay in theoretical terms,” Eblen said. “You hear the stories and you hear the stats, but it’s not until you can really put an emotional connection to it, that it hits truly home.”
This talk comes about a year after an outside consultant released a report on MU Greek life, criticizing how the Office of Greek Life managed fraternities and sororities on campus, according to previous Missourian reporting.
MU’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life keeps a record of “Community Conduct History” online. And according to the Office’s website, five MU chapters are currently suspended.
The talk ended on a note of hope, arguing that changing the culture around hazing could have the ability to save lives.
The mothers challenged the Greek community to do better, and urged students to break the cycle of hazing.
“Ask yourself if you would do these activities to yourself or your siblings,” said Gruver. “If the answer is no, then why are you doing this to someone else?”