Former Auburn Sigma Nu lost two fraternity brothers
As a Sigma Nu member at Auburn University, Erle Morring thought hazing rituals were innocuous.
Then two of his fraternity brothers, including his “little,” died within three months, due in part to what Morring said was a culture of excess drinking and mistreatment fueled by his chapter’s recruitment rituals. Morring, now a professional speaker at campuses nationwide, told his story in separate presentations to USC sorority and fraternity members in the Russell House ballroom Tuesday night as part of National Hazing Prevention Week.
The event, which was booked in the spring and funded with $3,000 of Greek Life dues, comes after the suspension of fraternity recruitment earlier this semester due in part to incidents of pledges being hospitalized for over intoxication.
In his presentation, titled “Hazed and Confused,” Morring said his chapter subjected its members to various mistreatments meant to create more group cohesion.
These rituals instead resulted in an organization divided by pledge classes that hated the previous members who had hazed them. Morring’s presentation mixed fond reminiscence of his wild fraternity days with stern warnings about how fraternity culture at Auburn caused irreparable damage.
Morring acted out the “spotlight parties” he endured as a Sigma Nu pledge. At Auburn, he and his fellow class was blindfolded and led into a dark room. The blindfolds were removed, and a member shined a bright light in their eyes while insulting them.
He recreated the scene Tuesday, turning off the lights in the ballroom and shining a flashlight on fraternity members while he hurled endless questions and profanity at them. At first the room was tense, but by the end the room had burst into laughter.
“I’ve been told that I enjoy that too much,” Morring said.
Morring also told of his experiences hazing others. He once kidnapped and duct taped a fellow member and drove him from Auburn to Lexington, Va., where Sigma Nu was founded. The victim’s friends later retaliated by trashing a condominium belonging to one of Morring’s fellow kidnappers. At the time, he thought the conflict was simply part of “tradition.”
But Morring said that the hazing rituals, which he once thought were fun and necessary steps to membership, later contributed to deaths of two of his fraternity brothers.
Morring and his “little brother” Benson were both legacy members of Sigma Nu, granted a special status in the organization due to their relatives’ former memberships. Though Morring was supposed to be tough on his little, he developed a close relationship with him from the start. He remembers the last time he saw Benson — a drinking session at the beginning of Christmas break, when the two exchanged gifts of alcohol handles.
Benson had gotten involved in a “blood feud” with members of another fraternity. One night weeks later, Benson and his fellow Sigma Nus fled an off-campus bar pursued by enemies seeking revenge. The Sigma Nus jumped into a car under a barrage of projectiles. The driver thought everyone was in the car, but Benson had been knocked out and lay on the ground. The escaping car backed over his body, killing him.
“Were we 100 percent responsible for Blair’s death? No,” Morring said. “Did we contribute to a bunch of links in the chain that led to his death, yeah.”
Benson’s parents demanded Morring tell them how their son had gotten a fake ID and been involved in drinking and fights, but even their emotional plea for answers did not convince Morring that hazing was the problem.
It was only after another fraternity member, Wesley Potter, later committed suicide that it sank in.
“That’s when I came to the realization that what we were doing wasn’t just wrong, it was deadly wrong,” Morring said.
Morring told members seeking reform to start small by targeting the worst hazing ritual their chapter engaged in. He also said creating discipline and making members learn tradition was still important, and stressed that he didn’t want to turn fraternities into sororities.
“It doesn’t have to become a pansy program; you need to know the history and all that stuff,” Morring said. “But cut out the stupid stuff.”
He stressed solving hazing issues internally, saying that for him, student affairs and reporting is a last option.
Assistant director of Greek Programming Katie Spell said Morring’s message should resonate well with USC’s fraternity members.
“He talks a lot about creating a culture change and that some of the decisions stem from alcohol, and I think our men realized in the beginning of the fall that there probably does need to be a culture change,” Spell said.