George Desdunes, a Sophomore at Cornell University who had aspirations of being a doctor, was pronounced dead on the morning of February 25, 2011 at Cayuga Medical Center. Desdunes was a pledge of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity who died with a blood alcohol level of .409 after being subjected to a fraternity hazing ritual. Members of SAE allegedly kidnapped him by blindfolding him and binding his hands and feet. They then forced him to drink so much alcohol that he passed out and died. After his mother filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and 11 of its members, Cornell promised to change the way students pledge fraternities and sororities, and now they’re finally taking steps toward that end.
Cornell is considering many options in addressing this dire problem, including replacing the old pledging process with “outward bound” activities like community-service projects. David Skorton, the university president, understands that changing a drinking culture is a serious challenge and won’t happen overnight, but he believes that it is extremely important to try. In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times last year, Skorton wrote that, “This tragedy convinced me that it was time – long past time – to remedy practices of the fraternity system that continue to foster hazing, which has persisted at Cornell, as on college campuses across the country, in violation of state law and university policy.”
Additional measures under consideration are banning pledges from attending any fraternity parties with alcohol until they become members, a measure which makes sense considering that fraternities at Cornell are only allowed to serve alcohol to students who are 21-years-old. This isn’t an isolated case of a wrongful death resulting from the pledge process, either – the lawyer who is representing Desdunes’ mother’s case claimed that at least five other deaths have occurred at SAE chapters since 1997. The ritual of mock kidnapping and forced drinking is one of the most vicious forms of hazing, which is why our New York City wrongful death lawyers are always willing to assist wrongful death victims and their families in such cases. Contact us today if you believe that we can assist you in securing justice for the unjust loss of a loved one.