Frat Hazing: A Dangerous New Drinking Game

Even as Alpha Phi Alpha pledge Braylon Curry became incoherent, fraternity members urged him to keep chugging from a gallon jug, threatening to beat him if he stopped, Curry's parents say he told them. Hours later, the Southern Methodist University junior had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital, becoming the second reported victim this year of a prank that experts worry could become a new hazing ritual.

Curry wasn't drinking whisky or beer, but water. Drinking as much as 15 liters of water in a short period of time--the body processes only six to eight in 24 hours--causes hyponatremia, a potentially fatal sodium imbalance in the body, says Dr. Kenney Weinmeister, who treated Curry at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. (Curry has since recovered. The fraternity's national office is investigating; local members could not be reached.) The condition is seen in marathon runners and ravers on ecstasy, who can overcompensate for their thirst.

But as hazing, "water torture" is more dangerous because fraternity members may assume that if the pledges aren't drinking alcohol, they can take drinking to the extreme with impunity, says expert Hank Nuwer. And like other hazing activities that dehumanize pledges, it's easy for members to sanction suffering in the name of brotherhood. Freshman Walter Jennings died in March after he was forced to chug water while pledging an underground fraternity at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. A student from another Eastern school, astonished to learn about Jennings, told Nuwer that his fraternity forced its pledges to drink hot water until they vomited. That frat was disbanded, but as SMU's frustrated officials have learned, hazing's a long way from being expelled.