FSU Among Multiple Universities Working Towards Change Following Student Deaths

Doug Fireberg responds to Florida State University’s ban on campus groups serving alcohol in wake of student Andrew Coffey’s death.

Florida State University is one of at least four schools reeling from incidents this year where students have died due to alcohol, hazing, or both.

Florida State, Penn State, LSU, and now Texas State, have lost a student this year to what some consider a “pervasive problem.”

“At least 18 drinks in one hour and 22 minutes”, stated Stacy Parks Miller, Centre County District Attorney. That was the shocking revelation this week at Penn State, as prosecutors leveled charges against even more members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. All were tied to the night drunken pledge Tim Piazza broke his skull falling down a flight of stairs.

Jim Piazza, the father of Tim, said, “We’re making holiday plans without our son Tim, because of your actions.”

We are still waiting to find out what happened to Florida State student Andrew Coffey. The Pi Kappa Phi pledge was found dead at a house off Buena Vista drive on November 3.

Tallahassee Police Chief Michael Deleo said, “Although there are indications alcohol may have been a factor in this case, we are awaiting the results of an autopsy and no cause of death has been determined.”

One FSU student explained, “It’s a tragedy that happened.” When asked if they were shocked by it, they responded, “No, because fraternity and sorority parties can get a little crazy and out of hand.”

Coffey’s death, and a subsequent drug raid, not only led to the closure of Pi Kappa Phi, but a temporary halt to all Greek activities and a ban on campus groups serving alcohol.

When students were asked about their thoughts on President Thrasher’s decision, opinions were split. Some claimed that not all fraternities were at fault, one admitted that something had to be done, and one student said that although they understand the reasoning, it “still kinda sucks”.

President Thrasher admitted, “We can’t police 42,000 students, and I don’t intend to do that. That’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to educate them. But on things like this, they’ve got to be a part of the solution.”

“I don’t think that’s the solution,” claimed Attorney Doug Fierberg, in response to the ban. Fierberg has represented nearly 50 parents nationwide whose children have been targets of campus assaults and fraternity hazing. He’s skeptical the ban will yield anything but a short hiatus in the party culture.

“They’re dangerous, have been dangerous, and are not known to be able to solve their own problems,” said Fierberg. “In the 1980’s, fraternities were the sixth worst insurance risk in the country, just behind hazardous waste haulers.”

A friend of Maxwell Gruver, the student who lost his life at LSU, asked, “If you’re supposed to be a club full of friends and life-lasting relationships, why did his life have to end so early?”

LSU resumed social activities a month after Gruver’s death, but the President ordered an alcohol ban within days after discovering some students hadn’t “absorbed the severity and seriousness” of the current situation.

When asked if banning alcohol at fraternities and sororities is on the table, FSU President Thrasher responded, “I don’t know. That’s what we’re going to have this conversation with them about.”

“Drew’s parents have expressed their hope that his death will be a catalyst for change,” Thrasher continued.

Coffey’s family hopes that “no family will ever have to experience the avoidable heartache of losing a child in the most shining moments of their lives.”

Jordan Doersam, a friend of Coffey, stated, “It’s been really rough. Nothing prepares you for losing one of your best friends. We’re all just trying to get through it.”

Penn State, which is led by former FSU President Eric Barron, is making drastic changes this year.

The university is assuming oversight of fraternities and sororities, delaying rushing for freshmen, limiting the number of socials with alcohol, hiring compliance monitors, and posting Greek Chapter score cards online.

FSU is telling us that all these options are under consideration, but no decisions have been made.

The Conspiracy of Inaction on Sexual Abuse and Harassment

Great op-ed piece from the New York Times regarding the vital importance of reporting suspected sexual harassment in K-12 schools, and the terrible consequences of remaining silent.

The Conspiracy of Inaction on Sexual Abuse and Harassment by David Leonhardt of the New York Times:

I caught the journalism bug in high school. I was fortunate to be a scholarship student at a rigorous New York private school with a weekly newspaper, and some of the older students I admired taught me the power that the written word could have.

When we complained verbally to teachers or administrators about a problem, they could ignore us. When we put our arguments in writing, they tended to pay attention. So we became teenage crusaders, inveighing against perceived injustices. Sometimes, the subjects were sophomoric (“censorship” of the talent show), but often they were serious (inequality, racism, South African divestment).

Three decades later, I look back on the experience with deep gratitude. I also look back with haunting regret.

For all of our crusading, we ignored the biggest story at the school. We were aware of the rumors — the teachers who made comments about girls’ bodies, the teacher suspiciously friendly with female students, the music teacher solicitous of male students.

But we never wrote about it. As best as I can remember, we didn’t even talk about writing about it. We didn’t know how. It seemed too dark, too uncertain.

In 2012, the truth came out. My school — Horace Mann — had tolerated sexual molestation for decades. Administrators whose most solemn responsibility was protecting children instead chose to look the other way and protect child abusers. The music teacher, a cultish figure named Johannes Somary, was the worst abuser during my time. One of his victims later committed suicide.

The current torrent of harassment revelations — following Jodi Kantor’s and Megan Twohey’s Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein — has caused me to think back on high school again, because every big case has had something in common with Horace Mann.

People knew.

Florida State University Pledge’s Death Sparks Investigation, Suspension of Fraternity

Andrew Coffey, a Florida State University Student and Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity Pledge, Was Found Dead Friday Morning After Fraternity Party.

The death of a Andrew Coffey at Florida State University has sparked a police investigation and the suspension of the national Pi Kappa Phi fraternal organization’s local chapter, Beta Eta, officials said.

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

The student, 20-year-old Andrew Coffey, was found Friday morning around 10:23 a.m. ET after the Tallahassee Police Department received a call about an unresponsive person at a home on Buena Vista Drive.

Coffey was pronounced dead at the scene, and an investigation into his death is ongoing, police said.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – cautions:  

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

Fierberg was featured on CNN to discuss the perils of fraternity hazing violence and death:

“The dangers of fraternities are not myths. They are reality. The failure by universities to tell the truth about the risks facing students in fraternities specifically related to hazing misuse and abuse of alcohol and other misconduct is the new battleground.” Fierberg tells CNN. “It needs to be changed nationally, because parents and students are entitled to timely and accurate information about the risks they face.  And universities have no basis, morally or legally, to withhold that information from the university community.”

Fierberg said universities violate their duties to students and parents when they create websites about Greek life and only include feel-good information, instead of an accurate and complete picture:

“[Universities] won’t give you the full information because it will confirm that what you believe is right. Of course you have a zero tolerance policy. [Hazing is] illegal. … But why wouldn’t you tell parents it’s still going on?”

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the Coffey family finds answers related to how this terrible loss transpired.

Our thoughts are with Andrew’s family and community during this extremely difficult time.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar Discusses #MeToo in ESPN Article

Nancy Hogshead-Makar:  #MeToo Shows Need for Tighter Rules in Club and Olympic Sports.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist swimmer, is the chief executive officer of Champion Women, an organization that advocates for girls and women in sports. She is a civil rights attorney who has successfully represented athletes in precedent-setting legislation and is one of the nation’s foremost experts on gender equity in sports.

Last week, McKayla Maroney tweeted a message with the hashtag #MeToo, alleging she was sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. With her disclosure, she not only identified herself as one of the more than 140 women who have said they’ve been abused by Nassar, who has plead guilty to child pornography charges, but she also re-emphasized that the ubiquitous nature of abuse reaches even the highest levels.

Numerous athletes from all types of sports and women working in athletics have joined the #MeToo movement, including another Olympic gold medalist, gymnast Tatiana Gutsu.

Sexual harassment and abuse in sports aren’t novel or surprising to most of us inside athletics. But the #MeToo movement, reignited after accusations of sexual harassment against longtime Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has once again brought to light the constant objectification of women in sports.

Coaches and reporters tweeted about being groped or flashed, and athletes tweeted repeatedly about the entitlement of their male peer athletes and, in particular, about powerful, sexually demanding coaches. These coaches wield Weinstein-level power over athletes with playing time, scholarships, skill coaching or even a berth on an Olympic team. They can make or break an athlete’s career. As Maroney wrote, “I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

#MeToo.

I am a rape survivor. And in my professional work as an attorney, I have been involved in trying to address sexual abuse in club and Olympic sports for seven years.

As a lawyer representing victims of campus sexual violence, I became familiar with the legal protections under Title IX that schools owe to their students. Regardless of whether there is a criminal investigation, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence and address its effects. Frequently, my job is to make sure violence didn’t interfere with a student’s academic trajectory, that the student could stay in school and graduate without his or her GPA taking a hit. I try to ensure the availability of the types of accommodations Duke University made for me after I was raped in 1981.

  • Our Ethic

    Our Ethic

    More than 20 years ago, Doug Fierberg was the first lawyer to exclusively represent victims of school violence nationwide. As his legal team has grown, we have always believed that giving back is essential. Thus, our lawyers – for no fee - have compelled wrongdoers to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to non-profit organizations whose missions are to eliminate hazing, sexual assault, binge drinking, and other violence from schools.

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    Fraternity Victims

    "Fierberg is a man of obvious and deep intelligence, comfortable - in the way of alpha-male litigators - with sharply correcting a fuzzy thought; with using obscenities; with speaking derisively, even contemptuously, of opponents. He is also the man I would run to as though my hair were on fire if I ever found myself in a legal battle with a fraternity, and so should you." - Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

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  • School Rape

    School Rape

    The litigation experience of Doug Fierberg paired with the national Title IX movement expertise of Cari Simon make us uniquely effective advocates for people who have suffered rape or sexual assault in schools and universities.

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    Federal and state courts across the country have admitted Mr. Fierberg to practice before them to serve as lead trial counsel for wrongful death, hazing, sexual assault and catastrophic personal injury cases, including cases filed in Alabama, Arizona, California, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas, Mississippi, Nevada, Maryland, District of Columbia, and Ohio.

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Our clients have traveled paths that may be similar to the one you are presently on. They have valuable insights they are willing to share (including, of course, regarding our work). Many clients have become strong advocates, as a matter of necessity. Please feel free to inquire about this, and, where appropriate, we will gladly connect you to them, as they too are committed to offering their help and unique insight.

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