Saturday, September 15, 2007

Is secrecy buying these girls a better life?

A cop says this about a Los Angeles sorority: ""I've had an easier time infiltrating street gangs than penetrating this organization."

Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times reports on a lawsuit regarding two girls, Kristin High and Kenitha Saafir who died during a sorority hazing for Cal State Los Angeles. Banks' reporting is all the more interesting because she reveals that she is glad she pledged a sorority and went through hazing when she was in college.

Kristin's mother told Banks, "Kristin was always a type-A daughter. Super student, athlete, campus leader, mother of a 2-year-old son. Joining Alpha Kappa Alpha was something she had always wanted.

The reporter continues:
"But [Kristin's] mother said the weeks-long process of pledging was more grueling than Kristin had imagined. She'd straggle home late at night, exhausted and edgy. She wouldn't talk about what was going on. "I didn't worry as much as I should," Strong-Fargas said this week. "There were things I missed, because I trusted her. Kristin was always on top of things."

"According to her family's lawsuit, Kristin, Kenitha and two other pledges were worked nightly to exhaustion, in sessions that often lasted until 1 or 2 a.m.

"The night they died, the lawsuit claims, they'd spent hours at the beach doing calisthenics before they were ordered to walk backward into the ocean. A wave hit Kenitha and knocked her down. Kristin knew Kenitha couldn't swim, so she went in after her. Both were dragged by high waves under the water, the lawsuit alleges.

"That is what Kristin's mother believes, based on witness accounts collected by the family's private investigator, Robert Freeman.

"She doesn't know for sure because the two pledges who survived won't talk to her.

"The next day, when the young women brought Kristin's car home, her mother said Kristin's pledge journal was missing and numbers had been deleted from her cellphone. "They wanted to just drop the keys and run," Strong-Fargas said when I interviewed her this week at the small Christian school she runs in South Los Angeles.

""These were girls who had spent hours at our home, who had eaten with my family, played with Kristin's son. They were the only ones who could tell me what happened to my daughter. And they couldn't even look at me in my face.""

"...According to those who track hazing injuries, more than 80 pledges have been killed or injured around the country in the last 15 years during rites that involve binge drinking, beatings or extreme physical exertion. But the deaths of Kristin and Kenitha had special resonance among Greek-letter organizations. "Their deaths were like 9/11 for fraternities and sororities," said Lawrence Ross Jr., the author of a book on black Greek organizations and an anti-hazing lecturer on campuses. "It forced a lot of people out of denial."

"As a reporter, I covered the story when they died. I suspected from the first bare-bones account that this was no simple jaunt on the beach. Because when I was a college student, I pledged a sorority.

"The insults, the paddling, the forced exercise routines that I endured went beyond humiliating and veered perilously close to dangerous. But I didn't balk.

"Then, I believed the party line: Surviving brutality was a badge of honor, keeping secrets a measure of loyalty. Now, I'm not so sure.

"I've always been glad that I pledged and proud I made it through. As difficult as it sometimes was, the process gave me confidence, and taught me to draw on an inner strength that's served me well in adulthood.

"But then I made it out alive.

"Now, 35 years down the line, I'm no longer courting the respect of would-be sorority sisters. I'm a mother with a daughter in college. And I'm wondering what secrets I'll be willing to share if she comes to me one day and says, "Mom, I'm thinking of pledging a sorority.""

Full article:,1,36756.column?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

Here is a link to the attorneys who represented Kristin's family:

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