In a move to honor their lost loved one, Maxwell Gruver's family is taking a stand against hazing and urging young adults to be responsible and brave in the face of peer pressure.
Rae Ann Gruver, Max's mother, said she isn't ready to speak to the media about the tragic loss of her son, who died from alcohol poisoning after police say the LSU student was forced to drink at a Phi Delta Theta hazing ritual in September. But she mailed The Advocate a family statement that describes her son as a caring, giving Christian.
"Our beloved Max was a person who cared deeply about others. He took actions time and again to help others, especially if they were facing challenging circumstances," says the message from "Max Gruver's family." "In the giving spirit of Max, we are reaching out to the young people who have been blessed to have had their lives touched by Max."
While the Gruver family is sending out its plea, higher education leaders in Louisiana met Thursday with Gov. John Bel Edwards to discuss a path forward to reduce the risk of hazing, alcohol abuse and drugs on college campuses in the aftermath of Gruver's death. The meeting also came on the heels of a lawsuit filed by a University of Louisiana at Lafayette fraternity pledge who says he fell asleep at the wheel and killed another student in 2016 because of sleep deprivation related to hazing.
Gruver died on Sept. 14, a few weeks after classes at LSU had started. Law enforcement says he had a blood alcohol level of 0.495 and was forced to drink 190-proof liquor during a hazing game at the Phi Delta Theta house. Ten men were arrested for hazing, and one of them was arrested with the additional charge of negligent homicide.
On Thursday, the higher education leaders didn't reveal any major policy changes, but committed to researching best practices to try to eradicate dangerous behavior. The leaders said they will host a conference of national hazing experts in February.
"This is a reminder that hazing is not an innocent activity, it's not a rite of passage, it's illegal," Edwards said. "It's not just a tragedy when a death occurs, it's illegal all the time."
Several of the university system leaders, as well as the governor, defended the Greek system, saying the vast majority of students are doing good works in the community that fly under the radar. The officials also defended their existing policies that govern student safety, despite a rash of hazing complaints over the years.
"If you took an inventory of policies in place right now on our college campuses, I dare say that all of you would be impressed," Edwards said when asked if he had specific policies he'd like to see enacted. "Obviously, those policies don't always translate into all of those campuses being as safe as we want them to be for all of our students. That's why we have to keep working."
LSU President F. King Alexander said LSU's Greek organizations are hardly more problematic than any other major school, noting it's common for an SEC school to have about 20 percent of its Greek organizations in trouble at any given time. At LSU, one-third of all Greek organizations are in some level of reprimand and almost half of the fraternities are in trouble.
Alexander also suggested the fix at LSU isn't going to come from strict policy changes. However, a task force has been impaneled to give policy recommendations by the end of January 2018.
"The best way to eradicate this behavior is not by having a policy book that's three times what we have now," he said. "It's going to be peer to peer interaction."
After Gruver's death, Phi Delta Theta was immediately removed by the national organization. Three more fraternities have been penalized in the weeks that have followed.
This week, the University of Lafayette-Louisiana found itself in a similar position after lawsuits were filed against the University of Louisiana System, Kappa Sigma and some of its members for a hazing incident last November.
As first reported by KATC, Michael Gallagher Jr. and his parents filed suit alleging Gallagher had been forced to be a designated driver for the drunk fraternity members, but was suffering severe sleep deprivation because of hazing in the days leading to the crash. While driving, he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into and killed a pedestrian, 24-year-old graduate student Rustam Nizamutdinov.
The mother of the victim, Farida Shavkatova, of Uzbekistan, also filed a suit alleging Gallagher had been subjected to "extreme sleep deprivation" in the days leading to the crash.
Jim Henderson, University of Louisiana System President, said Thursday he was "deeply saddened at the loss of a student's life," and said the University responded "quickly and effectively" to punish the fraternity.
Kappa Sigma's national headquarters revoked the UL fraternity charter in July.
In 2013, LSU's chapter of Pi Kappa Phi hosted an event for its new member class called "Big Brother Night." At that gathering, LSU would later…
The family of LSU's Max Gruver is encouraging young people to be mindful of risky situations that can escalate into something more dangerous. Rae Ann Gruver said the family message was printed inside her son's funeral program.
"Be very aware that situations can quickly get out of control. Look out for and be cautious of situations that could put you or your friends in danger," the statement says. "Such situations could result in tragic consequences not only for you, but also your friends and family."
"So please look out for yourself and, as importantly, look out for others," the message says. "Speak up if you see a situation that does not look right. If you're noticing something doesn't seem right — chances are, it's not. Take action. Get help. Taking action takes courage — even if it seems like the unpopular route to take."
Rae Ann Gruver sent The Advocate materials she's produced to promote her message — purple silicon wristbands with yellow lettering that say "#StopTheHazing" and stickers that say "#FlyHighMax," with his initials in a heart. She said she's sent out 15,000 wristbands to spread the message.
"As members of Christ's family it is our responsibility to look after one other and to help each other," the message states. "In the giving spirit of Max, take this community with you when you go out into the world and keep each other safe."