Fourteen years ago, Chico State University first-year student Matthew Carrington died after pledging Chi Tau, a local fraternity unaffiliated with the campus. It was the hazing events of “Hell Week” – or “Inspiration Week” as the fraternity called it – that led to Matt’s preventable death.
In a ten-by-twenty-foot basement of the fraternity house, Matt and one other pledge were told it would be their home for the coming days. Beginning on January 30, 2005, the two young men were taunted and forced to do push-ups and sit-ups in raw sewage on the floor, and left to sleep in small cubby holes cut into the basement walls.
On the night of February 1st, 2005, the pledges were coerced to drink mass quantities of water from a 5-gallon jug said to have been filled over 5 times, while being quizzed about the history of the fraternity. When they answered incorrectly, cooling fans were set up to blast cold air on their wet bodies in the already thirty-degree temperature basement.
After being forced to drink gallon after gallon of water, at approximately 4 a.m., Matt had a seizure and collapsed from hyponatremia and hypothermia. Surrounded by his peers, Matt was left to die on the floor of the basement while they delayed calling for help for over an hour.
Matt died at Enloe Medical Center in Chico from cardiac dysrhythmia and cerebral edema, or brain swelling, due to water intoxication. None of the fraternity brothers were with Matt in the hospital when he died. He would have turned 36 years old this year.
After his senseless death, Matt’s Mom, Debbie Smith, dedicated her life to preventing future hazing tragedies. In 2006, “Matt’s Law” was passed making hazing a felony in the state of California when someone is seriously injured or killed, and a misdemeanor when someone witnesses hazing and does nothing to stop it.
In 2015, Debbie formalized her effort to stop hazing through establishing the AHA! (Anti Hazing Awareness) Movement, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission of saving lives and raising awareness of the dangers of hazing. AHA! honors the memory of Matt Carrington and carries out its mission through outreach and prevention education programming for middle/junior high school, high school and college students, as well as other groups and organizations - such as the military - to spread their anti-hazing message far and wide.
Like the many other young lives lost to hazing, Matt’s death could have been prevented. Most often in hazing incidents, there are bystanders present that do not approve of these degrading and abusive practices. AHA! and their work with other hazing prevention organizations are committed to empowering these voices to speak out and stand up for those being hazed, and to put an end to these senseless ‘traditions’ that result in death year after year.
WITH US is proud to partner with the AHA! Movement in our collective mission to empower bystanders to take action and help others. The life saving lessons from Matt’s Story offer important perspective and motivation for being an Upstander in our communities. Being an Upstander (proactive bystander) through your words and actions in these potentially harmful situations may feel uncomfortable or perceived as the ‘unpopular’ thing to do, but it can certainly save a life.
‘What you don’t know can kill you’. A phrase often used by AHA! to educate and raise awareness about the myths and often misunderstood complexities of hazing. As we remember the life and legacy of Matthew Carrington, let’s reflect on some of these critical lessons and bystander pitfalls:
For more information about the AHA! Movement and how to prevent hazing in your organizations, visit ahamovement.org.
Learn more about barriers to bystander intervention and how to prevent hazing by exploring tools in the WITH US Upstander Toolbox.
Join us in making a difference in students' lives today by joining the WITH US Center for Bystander Intervention.