March 30, 2017
Hazing Is Not Tradition: Remembering the Life of Gary DeVercelly Jr.
Spring time! Our family’s favorite time of year. Everything is fresh, flowers are blooming, and baseball season is starting. As parents of three children, we spent a lot of time watching, coaching, and cheering our children on as they played baseball, softball, football, and volleyball. For our oldest son, Gary Jr., life was best lived on a baseball field. He fell in love with the game when he was 3 years old. Throughout his life, he had a love and passion for the game that eventually brought him to the East Coast for college. He wanted to be – no, he was going to be – a General Manager for a professional baseball team.
But on March 30th, 2007, Gary’s dream ended when he died as a result of a fraternity hazing ritual.
It will be 10 years – a decade – this March 30th. Grief changes over time, and people often ask how we cope. Our family likes to reminisce about Gary – it’s our way of keeping him with us. We share stories of Gary with his brother and sister, Emily and Noah, and find happiness in learning about a secret he shared with Emily or some shenanigans he and Noah got into. We try to focus on the sweet memories our family has – laughing at his silliness, boasting of his accomplishments, reminiscing of his kindness and supportive way.
Then the bitter sweetness of it comes, as it always does, when the reality of his death seeps back into our thoughts. Talking about Gary Jr. is easy. Living without him is not. He is gone, and he is never coming back. Gary is just a memory now. We can share with Emily how her big brother was the only one who could get her to stop crying when she was little, but she can’t talk to Gary about it. We can tell Noah how Gary fixed his swing when he was struggling at the plate and made him a better hitter, but he can’t ask Gary what he fixed. This aspect of his loss may seem trivial to someone reading this, but it feels big to us at this stage of grief. We miss our son.
Gary was 18 years old when he died. Coping with his death is the hardest thing we have ever done. No one should go through what we went through. We have dedicated ourselves to preventing other families from suffering the same tragedy.
When we began our work, we saw that hazing was widespread, common, and had been an acknowledged part of campus life for a long time. For us, this was unacceptable. We learned that very few people were addressing the issue of hazing. Then, we found the Clery Center.
Clery Center is the leading resource in campus safety. They have helped us turn our best intentions into actions that are making a difference in so many ways:
- Working alongside the dedicated staff at Clery Center, we produced “We Don’t Haze”, an award-winning documentary. In this 17-minute film, victims share personal stories about their experiences with hazing. Viewers learn what hazing entails, why it is problematic, and how they can accomplish unity and team-building goals with positive, powerful alternatives to hazing. The video has been shown to college-aged students across the country.
- We are active in discussions with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to create meaningful, anti-hazing legislation.
- We spend most of our time on education, as we believe that a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved. We talk to educators, coaches, teachers, students, parents, and others about what constitutes hazing – and provide examples of positive alternatives.
Nine out of ten students who describe hazing behaviors do not consider themselves victims of hazing, according to a 2008 study conducted by the National Study of Student Hazing. “It wasn’t hazing”, they say when describing forced binge drinking or sleep deprivation, “That’s just tradition”.
Tradition is sharing memories with your children or playing baseball together at the park. Hazing is not tradition.
The Clery Center has done a lot of good work towards raising hazing awareness and encouraging prevention. However, each headline of another hazing death is another indicator that there is much more work to be done. We invite you to join us in changing the culture of hazing by viewing We Don’t Haze and the accompanying materials found here. Help us raise awareness and prevent hazing at college and university campuses across the country.
-Written by Gary and Julie DeVercelly, Clery Center Board Members