The day after Valentine's Day, 17 years ago, a student at Southeast Missouri State University lay in his bed dying as a result of fraternity hazing. The Southeast community has still not forgotten.
Michael Davis was a journalism student, an editor for the Arrow and a pledge of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. At the age of 25 he died at the hands of the very men whom he wished to become brothers with.
For weeks, Michael Davis and other young men pledging the fraternity were hit with books and canes, punched, slapped, body slammed and otherwise brutalized as part of a hazing process. On Valentine's Day in 1994, all of the violence culminated into one infamous night.
On that night, the pledges of Kappa Alpha Psi were forced to go through several hazing "stations" set up on a university field by the fraternity members. At each station, the pledge was physically abused, emotionally abused or forced to ingest alcohol. Davis was beaten so badly that he fell unconscious and had to be put to bed by members of the fraternity. After noticing foam coming from his mouth, the fraternity brothers called 911 and lied about the cause of his injuries, blaming them on football. The coroner reported broken ribs, a lacerated kidney and liver, bruising over his entire upper body and the cause of death – internal bleeding in his brain.
Sixteen members of Kappa Alpha Psi were charged with hazing. Seven either pled guilty or were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served short sentences. The fraternity settled with the Davis family for more than $1 million and has since been banned from Southeast's campus.
Tamara Zellars Buck, assistant professor of mass media,called Davis "a classmate, peer and friend." They were both staff writers at the Arrow at the time of Davis' death. She remembers the day she heard the tragic news from her managing editor, Chuck Miller. "He told me 'I've got some news, sit down'," she said. "But I didn't sit down. Then he said 'Michael's dead' and it took my breath away. Then I sat down." The same night Davis' body was discovered, the Arrow staff covered the story of his death and rearranged their newspaper layout to include this front-page news for the next morning's edition.
Southeast has a zero-tolerance policy against hazing, which it defines as any act on campus or off campus that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of any person, regardless of consent. Students planning to join fraternities or sororities are required to attend an informational meeting that includes information about hazing. Every on-campus organization is also required to have an anti-hazing policy in their constitution.
Buck believes the university is doing "as much as they can do" to prevent hazing. "It's up to the students now," she said. "A lot of it comes down to the tradition hazing has. We have to get rid of the mindset that it's part of what being greek is."
"It won't stop until who it's [hazing] happening to and the people that are committing it make it stop," Buck concluded.
A $10,000 scholarship in honor of Davis' life and death was endowed last year at Southeast after years in the making. The money will be awarded in $500 increments to winning qualified minorities in Southeast's journalism major, beginning sometime this spring.
Southeast also holds a yearly Michael Davis Lecture. This year, Michael E. Lewellen, a successful and award-winning black public relations expert, will be the guest speaker. Lewellen's lecture will begin at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 23, in Rose Theater in the Grauel Building. This event is free and open to all.