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Death of CSUN Student Brings More Scrutiny on College Hazing Problem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 01:36

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Armando Villa was a popular student and swimmer at Kennedy High. He had just become a freshman at Cal State Northridge.

“It was like boot camp. In the first trial we got kidnapped, they blindfolded us and took us to the mountains. There were planks on your elbows and a lot of drinking, followed by stupid exercises you couldn't do when drunk.”

Those are some of the hazing rituals a former pledge of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) told to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, which led him to drop out before finishing his pledge.

“There was definitely hazing. The school should shut them (Pi Kappa Phi) down. There’s a death in their pledging process. That needs to stop,” the former pledge said.

Hazing is one of the hypotheses being considered by the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department in the investigation into the July 1 death of Armando Villa, 19, a CSUN student who was pledging the Phi Kappa Phi fraternity.

Villa was on a hike in Angeles National Forest organized by the fraternity. According to family and friends, Villa had been forced to walk through the forest without shoes or a cell phone, according to his family and friends.

A park ranger found him lying unconscious along a trail, his bare feet covered in blisters, according to relatives. Villa was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

His relatives say Villa and eight other pledges were left in the woods to find their way out as part of a fraternity hazing ritual. Each teen was given just a little water to keep them hydrated, that was not enough for the temperatures that day, that hovered above 90 degrees in the area that day.

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Armando Villa.

Villa apparently died from heat stroke.

Dozens of Villa’s relatives, friends and fellow students gathered at the entrance to CSUN Wednesday evening, July 9, to remember him and send an anti-hazing message to the entire school community.

Mark Timmes, chief executive officer of the national Phi Kappa Phi, released a statement after the incident saying hazing has no place in their fraternity. “Should the student chapter or individual members be found in violation of Pi Kappa Phi’s standards of conduct through our discipline process, they will be held accountable by the national fraternity,” Timmes said.

The campus fraternity has denied there is hazing in their pledging process. CSUN officials have ordered the organization to cease and desist all activities pending the outcome of their investigation.

Hazing A National Issue

More than half of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing, according to a research published by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention based at the University of Maine.

The 2008 report, “Initial Findings of the National Study of Student Hazing: Examining and Transforming Campus Hazing Cultures,” also found that students affiliated with varsity athletics and social fraternities and sororities are most likely to experience hazing.

Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep- deprivation, and sex acts are hazing practices common across student groups. Something else reported by the students who participated in the surveys that served as basis for the report is “endure harsh weather conditions without appropriate clothing.”

Friends of Villa include Alex Lomeli, who knew him when they both attended Kennedy High School, hopes that his death brings about changes and more awareness about the college hazing.

“I just hope that everybody realizes that hazing is out there and could take away somebody’s life. That we can all finish what he wanted to happen, to stop the hazing,” she said.

A Great Guy

Those who knew him at Kennedy, where Villa participated in football, swimming and was part of the link crew — a set of high school seniors who served as role models to incoming freshmen — remember him as a kindhearted, committed and competitive guy who made friends everywhere he went.

“He was one of the nicest guys I've ever met, really caring guy. Whatever he set out to do, he did it,” Lomeli. “He was pretty much an overachiever, really kind hearted, very charming.”

“He had a lot of friends. He was very well liked,” she continued. “He was very friendly, very alive. He was like an electric bolt, that’s the best I can say about him.

"We all miss his smile the most."

Concerned About Hazing

The middle child of a family of three, with an older and younger sister, Villa had just finished his first year at CSUN and was excited to be completing the final stage of his pledge before becoming a full member of Pi Kappa Phi, said another of Villa’s friends.

But he was also wary of the hazing he had encountered in the pledging stage, said the friend, who asked not to be identified.

“He was excited that he would be done. He had mentioned he wanted to quit so bad, but he would never quit. He always pushed himself, that’s why he stuck with the fraternity. He didn't want to give up,” the friend said.

And even when he had expressed reservations about the hazing he had encountered in the fraternity pledging process, he wouldn’t be dissuaded to give up, said people who knew him. In fact, they said, he was committed to changing that part of the process.

“He thought when he became a leader, he would stop it,” Lomeli said.

Friends and family are raising funds to help with Villa’s funeral costs. If you want to help, visit http://www.gofundme. com/b0hbzs. Another fundraiser, selling food and drinks, is also planned for Saturday, July 12, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 9809 Peach Ave., in North Hills.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 17:54