A necessary ostracism

President Zingg is right to hold all Greeks responsible for student’s death

What does it mean to belong to a fraternity or sorority?

That, in essence, is what Chico State President Paul Zingg asked during his meeting last Thursday (Nov. 15) with about 400 members of campus Greek organizations.

He was thinking of 21-year-old Mason Sumnicht, a Sigma Pi pledge who, even as Zingg was speaking, was dying at Enloe Medical Center. On Nov. 4, while celebrating his 21st birthday, Sumnicht drank enough alcohol to cause such severe brain damage that he could be kept alive only by artificial means. When those were removed, he died.

Where were his friends? His fraternity brothers? How could they let something like this happen? Zingg, visibly angry, wanted to know.

“It is not enough at vigils and memorials to proclaim, ‘No brother left behind,’ when you stand by idly and watch a brother gulp down 21 shots for his 21st birthday, and let him pass out in his own vomit, and then at some point, when you realize that he’s not responsive, to call 911,” the president said.

This is personal for Zingg. When a student dies in this way, he’s the one to whom devastated family members turn for answers. They ask him the same question he asked the Greeks: How could you let this happen?

Some people complain that his decision to suspend all Greek organizations penalizes the innocent as well as the guilty. But that’s a failure to understand the larger problem. It’s not that some fraternities are less responsible than others, or that some are guilty and others are innocent. The problem is that there’s a culture of binge drinking among young people, including university students. They not only tolerate it; they often encourage it.

People will continue to die from alcohol overdoses unless and until the rest of us make irresponsible drinking so shameful that people will avoid it out of a desire not to be ostracized from the group.

President Zingg has ostracized the Greeks. They deserve it—and will continue to deserve it until they change their ways.