LINKS
2013-05-01 / News

Deaths of VSU students follow previous hazing incidents

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


During last week’s memorial service for Virginia State University students Jauwan Holmes and Marvell Edmondson, VSU President Keith T. Miller (left) and Director for Campus Ministries the Rev. Delano Douglas addressed family members, students and faculty. During last week’s memorial service for Virginia State University students Jauwan Holmes and Marvell Edmondson, VSU President Keith T. Miller (left) and Director for Campus Ministries the Rev. Delano Douglas addressed family members, students and faculty. The alleged initiation ritual that led to the drowning deaths of two Virginia State University freshmen is only the most recent in a string of controversial hazing incidents involving VSU students.

The April 20 drowning was the second documented hazing involving VSU students in the past eight months and the third in the past four years.

During last week’s memorial ceremony for 19-year-olds Jauwan Holmes and Marvell Edmondson, VSU president Keith T. Miller described such rituals as “outdated” and said they “have no place in building a better world.”

“As a university community, we will not tolerate this type of behavior,” Miller added. “We must learn the lessons of Jauwan and Marvell to ensure that these young men’s deaths were not in vain.” The memorial was held at the university’s Daniel Gymnasium.


Perry Evans led the Virginia State University Gospel Chorale during a memorial service last week for VSU students Jauwan Holmes and Marvell Edmondson, who drowned while trying to cross the Appomattox River. Perry Evans led the Virginia State University Gospel Chorale during a memorial service last week for VSU students Jauwan Holmes and Marvell Edmondson, who drowned while trying to cross the Appomattox River. The bodies of Holmes and Edmondson were recovered from the Appomattox River last week. The freshmen were trying to cross the river allegedly as part of their initiation into an unsanctioned social club when they fell into the water shortly after 1 a.m. on April 20.

They were swept away by the river’s current before they could be rescued.

Four men, including VSU students Eriq Benson and Cory Baytop, face hazing charges in connection with the deaths of Holmes and Edmondson, which occurred just two weeks after three other VSU students were arrested on hazing charges related to an incident that occurred last year.

Brandon Randleman, Leroy Amankrah and Christopher Barnes-Prevot were among four members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity charged with causing bodily injury to another student at multiple off-campus fraternity events between last August and November.

Randleman, 22, is president of the university’s student government association.

“We are working with the Alpha Phi Alpha national organization to determine appropriate sanctions,” said VSU spokesman Thomas Reed, who noted that he’s not at liberty to discuss Randleman’s case.

According to Reed, the VSU chapter of another fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, was suspended for five years after several of its members physically abused a pledge during a hazing process that began in January 2009.

Eight Phi Beta Sigma members were charged in 2009 with hazing and assault offenses. The charges were eventually dismissed because the defendants organized and participated in on-campus educational programs on Greek life, hazing and fraternity pledging. Reed confirmed last week that the students fulfilled their part of the agreement.

Their victim, former VSU student Christopher Rudder, filed a $1.7 million lawsuit against the fraternity’s national organization and its local chapter last fall.

Rudder’s lawsuit, which is ongoing, claims that he was punched and kicked with a boot in the neck and groin. It also says he was beaten so severely with a paddle that he suffered extreme bruising and developed a staph infection in his right buttock that required a skin graft to repair.

According to the suit, Rudder was also forced to eat unknown materials that made him vomit and had hot sauce poured over his genitals.

“He still has flashbacks, but he’s moving on the best he can,” said Rudder’s attorney, Scott Bucci of the Richmond-based firm Bucci and Dix; he also said that his client is on the verge of earning a degree from Old Dominion University after dropping out of VSU.

More than four years after Rudder started the pledge process at VSU, the recent arrests have reignited the debate over the university’s role in monitoring the behavior of fraternities, sororities and other sanctioned campus organizations.

VSU has a long-standing anti-hazing policy.

Students determined to have violated it can suspended from the school for up to a year, according to the student handbook. Student organizations found to have violated the policy could face the loss of their organizational privileges and status, Reed said.

VSU conducts anti-hazing education sessions at the beginning of each semester. All current Greeks are required to attend the sessions, which typically last between two and three hours apiece.

The university also holds anti-hazing education specifically for all Greek organizations each semester, as well as meeting with all potential candidates before the start of the pledge process.

“Greeks receive four to six hours of education per semester, while prospective pledges receive two to three hours,” Reed added. “This represents a significant investment in providing anti-hazing education to our students.”

The Rev. Delano Douglas, who spoke at last week’s memorial, pointed out that many of VSU’s 5,000 students have rejected the culture that can produce deadly hazing incidents.

Still more needs to be done to educate students about the potential consequences of participating in such behavior, Douglas said. “We need to take a public stand,” he added, “and reiterate what we’re all about.”

Return to top