University of Kentucky suspends fraternity activities after death of student

An investigation into how Thomas Hazelwood, an 18-year-old 'new member' at UK, died is ongoing.
By: | October 21, 2021
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Following the death of an 18-year-old student, the University of Kentucky has announced it is suspending new member events at all of its fraternities.

Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, a freshman who was new to the FarmHouse Fraternity, was found unresponsive on Monday afternoon by campus police from “presumed alcohol toxicity,” according to the county coroner. That fraternity has had all of its activities suspended as the university and its police continue their own investigation into how Hazelwood died. It initially was termed an accident, and university officials say no foul play is suspected.

“There aren’t words adequate to convey what so many on our campus feel, the sense of loss and grief, sadness and emptiness,” said University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto. “Words can’t fill that void, nor will we try. However, we  can – and we will – commit to finding out what happened, how it happened and why. We have conveyed to Lofton’s family that we will move as quickly as possible, but also transparently and comprehensively. We won’t speculate or engage in conjecture, but we will find out.”

The fraternities will not be able to conduct “social, educational or formal interactions between new and returning members of the organization or chapter,” according to Kirsten Turner, Vice President for Student Success, wrote to the UK campus community.

The tragedy comes as higher education continues to cope with young fraternity members dying or unresponsive around new member initiations where substance use has been prevalent.

The University of Missouri also suspended its fraternity activities Wednesday after a student was found unresponsive at its Phi Gamma Delta house and later hospitalized.

“We are extremely concerned about the events that were occurring at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity,” Bill Stackman, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs,  said in a statement. “As part of the investigations, we will hold anyone accountable who is found to have willfully ignored or violated university regulations. Those individuals could also face criminal charges.”

Several other alarming incidents have rocked colleges and universities, including allegations that drug use was forced at a Northwestern University fraternity, while reports of sexual assaults may have occurred at others, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Syracuse University, Purdue University, the University of Massachusetts and Eastern Michigan University. Eleven fraternity members at Virginia Commonwealth University were recently indicted after a pledge died of alcohol poisoning.

Several months ago, a 20-year-old fraternity pledge at Bowling Green State University died after consuming large amounts of alcohol at a party he was required to attend months ago. In 2018 an Ohio University pledge died after being forced to inhale nitrous oxide from a canister during a Greek party. Both universities permanently banned the two fraternities from campuses.

Support for students

Kentucky’s Office and Fraternity and Sorority Life plans to meet with leadership at the university to discuss potential next steps. One of those that the university promised is offering support to students as they cope with the loss.

“We have no more important priority than ensuring your health and well-being,” Turner told UK students. “Even as we are reviewing the circumstances of Lofton’s death, we believe it is important to think about and act upon additional steps we can, and should, take to honor our obligations to you.  It also is important that we, as a community, reinforce your responsibilities to each other.”

The university said it would enhance education around the importance of bystander intervention, alcohol abuse and hazing, as well as offering further counseling.

“What happened is unspeakably tragic, but that should never stop us from reaching out to each other to talk, to listen and to offer support,” Capilouto said. “We all need help at times, never more so than when those things that are seemingly unimaginable actually happen. Life is fragile and precious. Too often, we realize that far too late. So, while we cannot heal such a loss or fill the emptiness that we know so many feel right now, we can be there.”