According to local papers, around 3 a.m. last night at the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, on the campus of Rutgers University, a young female student, Caitlyn P. Kovacs was experiencing “severe distress” before being taken to a local hospital. The details are still a bit spotty; we do not yet know if she had already died in the house or died shortly upon arriving at the hospital. Either way, police are already stating publicly that they think her death was ‘alcohol related.’ This term is a bit of a loaded one, but in basic terms it means either a person has died of alcohol positioning or, because of their intoxicated state, died due to a fall or some other physical misfortune.
Years ago, an incident like this would have been considered a personal tragedy, primarily the fault of the deceased. Not anymore. Over the past two decades the state of New Jersey has passed a myriad of laws that have shifted the responsibility for such actions to the adult hosts, be they parents or a bunch of partying Frat boys. New Jersey’s ‘Social Host Liability Act’ and related laws additionally have added several serious criminal and civil penalties to such situations, from jail time to steep fines to both. And these laws in no way eclipse the right of victim’s families to sue for damages in case people are hurt or, as in this recent case, killed.
So assuming that this young woman, who was under 21, did indeed receive and consume enough alcohol to result in her untimely death on the premises of the Delta Kappa Epsilon house, it’s fair to say that a measurable degree of justice is due, and perhaps some real policy changes.
First, let’s talk justice. Again, assuming the above is true, I do not think it would be unreasonable for the victim’s family, in recognition of the pain they’re undergoing and the loss experienced, to take possession of the Frat House. Yes, you read that right. The Frat House, the object that lured their loved one to her death, ought to be legally seized and transferred to the victim’s family. What they do with it is their business. This approach has been an effective way to punish regressive civic organizations in the past, especially the Klan in Georgia. One of the reasons why the KKK is no longer an overarching, united national organization (it once was) was due to the lawsuits of its victims.
I am not calling for the physical dissolution of the fraternity, because people still have the right to associate with each other in civic organizations. If the Frat’s members chose to continue to do so, that’s just fine. But if justice is to be served, this fraternity ought to be reduced to a bunch of guys meeting over a campfire in the woods on a year ’round basis.
Additionally, this is a university issue. Rutgers has been trying extremely hard to increase awareness of the university’s profile, history and reputation. Millions and millions of dollars has been invested in public relations campaigns, Big 10 membership activities, athletics and the like. A tragic and completely preventable death like this one, along with the subsequent negative publicity, squanders much of that investment.
The University ought to completely reconsider its policy towards this Fraternity and others like it. Frankly, it ought to totally and completely disassociate itself from these kinds of organizations and societies. Groups that encourage underage drinking and this kind of havoc have no place in any sort of official relationship with Rutgers, especially one that might bring them specific advantages.
Caitlyn had her entire life ahead of her, and she died under the supervision of other adults. These Fraternities want all of the advantages of being independent adult societies with none of the responsibilities. Well, they do have responsibilities, the foremost guaranteeing that if someone enters their Frat house alive they’ll leave the same way. But Caitlyn did not.