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NIU Greek leaders say times have changed 5 years after student's alcohol-related death

DeKALB – Ruth Bogenberger can’t get through the day without thinking what could’ve been. 

Her son, David Bogenberger, a former Northern Illinois University student, died after passing out from drinking an excessive amount of alcohol at an unsanctioned party hosted Nov. 2, 2012, by Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He was found dead in his bunk bed the next morning. Toxicology tests showed David had a blood-alcohol content of 0.351, more than four times the legal threshold for driving while intoxicated. 

A prosecutor called it one of the nation’s biggest hazing cases. All 22 former Pi Kappa Alpha members were found guilty of misdemeanor hazing and received sentences of community service and fines – but no jail time. David’s mother, Ruth, cringed when trying to describe the aftermath of her son’s death.

“It’s still devastating to my family every day,” Ruth said Thursday. “There has to be more adult oversight of the frats and their activities. It’s common knowledge when pledge week is happening, so I don’t understand why this happens so frequently.” 

Nearly five years after David Bogenberger’s death, current students insist the hazing days are long behind them. Rachel Jacob, NIU Student Association president, assures that proper steps are being taken by all Greek life members to ensure that the 2012 night at the Pi Kappa Alpha house doesn’t happen again.

“We’ve taken big strides as a university since [David’s] death at the Pike house,” said Jacob, who also serves as the president of Alpha Phi. “It’s crazy to think something like that happened to our community. We have a zero tolerance for hazing. We don’t haze our members at all.”

Rush week – now referred to as recruitment – can be an exciting time for new faces on campus. However, Greek life historically has been tagged with negative sentiments because of hazing that comes along with the experience.

Jeanne Meyer, director of student conduct, said a new position was created to check in on sanctioned events.

She said the officer also walks the streets of Greek Row, keeping an eye out for unsanctioned events.

“If they see something that shouldn’t be going on, it is obviously reported, and action is taken from there,” Meyer said.

‘There’s none of that hazing’

When Christian Moy arrived at NIU as a freshman, he didn’t plan to add Greek letters to his wardrobe and identity. 

“I was actually kind of scared to join Greek life,” said Moy, an NIU senior and president of Chi Sigma Tau. “When I looked it up, I saw a bunch of videos with crazy drinking and parties. I heard lots of bad stories about what happens to new pledges.”

Plenty of crazy videos and stories surface on the internet, but the death of David Bogenberger forever will be attached to the university’s name.

“Greek life is a vicious circle,” Ruth Bogenberger said. “When David told me he was going to join a fraternity, he told me there was an anti-hazing program, and he promised we didn’t have to worry about him. … Now, he’s gone.”

The Student Association hosted National Hazing Prevention Week from Sept. 18 to 22. The weeklong effort consisted of numerous events to spread anti-hazing awareness. Keynote speaker Tracy Maxwell, founder and executive director of HazingPrevention.org, addressed students Friday. Attendance was mandatory for all NIU fraternities and sororities. 

“Anti-hazing week is a requirement for us … but we were actually truly interested in what was said about hazing on campus,” Moy said.

He said Greek life has been a world apart from what he expected.

“Through Greek life, I’ve learned growing out of your shell is possible,” Moy said. “It’s completely different, there’s none of that hazing. Drinking every day, that’s not a thing. We focus a lot on our academics and community service. It’s completely different than what I thought it was coming here.”

When hazing does occur

At NIU, if hazing does occur, students are encouraged to file a report to the Student Conduct office in the Campus Life Building. Any hazing incidents reported also are forwarded to each respective fraternity’s or sorority’s national office. 

“We do whatever we can to make new members feel welcome,” Jacob said. “We have to educate, so people are aware our priorities aren’t just partying.” 

As for Ruth and the Bogenberger family, who now live in Florida, they still are seeking justice for David. The family filed a lawsuit against the 22 men found guilty, but a trial judge rejected the case in 2015. The family appealed in May and is waiting to hear back after making an oral argument with the Illinois Supreme Court, Ruth Bogenberger said.

“It’s important as ever now to show that Greek life isn’t just about these negative things, like having this terrible drinking and hazing culture,” Jacob said. “I want people in the DeKalb community to know we’re more than that. We’re better than that.”

Elsewhere, five members of Wheaton College’s football team recently were charged with aggravated battery, mob action and unlawful restraint for allegedly hazing a freshman in March 2016, putting the issue, not to mention another Illinois college, in the national spotlight.

Court records show that about 11:20 p.m. March 19, 2016, Wheaton police officers responded to Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield regarding an incident that involved members of the Wheaton College football team.

The victim reported receiving serious injuries when he was attacked by five members of the team and left in a field with his limbs secured with tape.

Wheaton College released a statement saying it was “deeply troubled” by the allegations.

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