- A CALIFORNIA VERSION OF THE WEST SIDE STORY
- UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS CLARIFIES POSITION
- FIRST AMENDMENT BATTLE WAGES IN COURT
- GRANT AGREEMENTS BETWEEN FRATERNAL ORGANIZATIONS AND AFFILIATED FOUNDATIONS - THE TEN MOST COMMON MISTAKES
- SPREADING LIABILITY FOR HAZING
- LIABILITY FROM ADVISOR'S FAILURE
Newsletter > March 2003 > "A CALIFORNIA VERSION OF THE WEST SIDE STORY"
A CALIFORNIA VERSION OF THE WEST SIDE STORY
Timothy M. Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
It is bad enough when irresponsible behavior, started because it was “meant to be fun,” leads to tragic consequences. It is yet another thing when, like something from the script of West Side Story, rival fraternities meet for a midnight rumble on a darkened basketball court. Yet that is exactly what happened on January 22, 2003, when members of Lambda Phi Epsilon and Pi Alpha Phi confronted one another in San Jose’s Flickinger Park.
The brawl was planned with such advance knowledge that police were warned of the fight an hour before it occurred. Unfortunately, the police checked the park and left the scene before the rival combatants showed up. In the aftermath, Alam Kim was dead, from a stab wound to the heart. Four other members of Lambda Phi Epsilon were hospitalized, three with stab wounds.
Robert L. Caret, the President of San Jose State University, made it clear that the University would not “tolerate thuggish or gang-like behavior” and the school acted promptly to suspend both fraternities.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that Kim was a 23-year old junior at San Jose State University and quoted Christine Choi, a little sister of the Lambda Phi Epsilon Chapter at the University of California-Davis as saying Kim “was the most loyal person I know. He was so loyal to the Lambdas and he would do anything for those brothers.” In the end, he appears to have died for them. A truly wasted and senseless death.
The story of college students acting like street gangs has attracted substantial media attention. One San Jose Mercury News front-page story focused on the “competitive culture” that exists in the Greek world and headlined the question, “Is Violence Inevitable with Rival Fraternities?”1 The story detailed a history of violent clashes between rival fraternities including:
- a fight between Kappa Sigma and Sigma Kappa Rho members at the University of California-Davis that included the use of a bat and a samurai
- a Washington State University battle between Delta Tau Delta and Phi Delta Theta which hospitalized several members after a battle with golf clubs, flash lights and
- a battle four years ago between Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Phi Delta Theta members at the University of
- another University of California-Davis confrontation when Lambda Phi Epsilon members broke into Pi Alpha Phi’s house.
These incidents each constitute criminal misconduct of the highest order. Whoever stabbed Alam Kim was guilty of homicide. The fact that some newspaper articles imply that the culprit may not have been a member of either rival fraternity, but rather a “hired mercenary” does little to eliminate the responsibility of the members themselves. This was a crime and a tragedy that should have never happened.
Consider that when violence occurs, the consequences will not just be felt by the injured and the arrested. Innocent members of the fraternity are likely to suffer as well. Chapters are likely to lose recognition, they are probably going to be suspended by their national, and chapter houses may be lost in the process. The image of the entire Greek world is tarnished.
All the good works that both chapters engaged in, including a long history of community service activities, including such things as bone marrow drivers, AIDS walks and the hosting of multi-cultural events were quickly forgotten in the furor over Kim’s death. The lives of the members of both fraternities will forever be impacted. Criminal charges are likely to be brought against many of the participants, and bright young students, looking forward to completing their college degrees, may be facing jail.
No doubt there are spirited rivalries that exist between fraternity chapters on many campuses. It is important that those rivalries be channeled through appropriate activities on the athletic field, in competitive charity drives, or in collecting votes for homecoming queen or student body president. The bond of brotherhood in each fraternity and their friendly competition with other groups should never be the spark setting off a later day version of the Jets against the Sharks. If it does, there is little that anyone other than a criminal defense attorney can do to help those charged with the criminal acts.
Fraternities face a difficult enough task in today’s society to remind many opinion leaders of all of the good that fraternities and sororities do for their members, their colleges and their communities. Some campuses need little more excuse to attempt to eliminate fraternities and sororities entirely.
The fraternity experience ought not include spreading the ashes of a departed member, who died in a violent fight over chapter “honor,” on a California mountain top; yet that was one of the first consequences of Alam Kim’s death.
1 San Jose Mercury News, January 26, 2003, by John Woolfolk and Tracy Kaplan with contributions from Staff Writer Becky Bartindale and News Researcher Leigh Poitinger.