On January 9, 2017, a Northwestern University sophomore named Jordan Hankins died by suicide in her dorm room in Evanston, Illinois. This week, two years after her death, her mother—Felicia Hankins—filed a complaint in federal court against Alpha Kappa Alpha, the sorority her daughter was pledging at the time of her death. The complaint alleges that Jordan Hankins, also a member of the university’s women’s basketball team, was subjected to “physical abuse including paddling, verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial exploitation, sleep deprivation, items being thrown and dumped on her, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean her” during the hazing process, which triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder and caused the prolonged anxiety and depression that eventually led to her death. (The lawsuit does not specify whether Hankins’s PTSD was a direct result of the hazing or existed before it.) Prior to Felicia Hankins’s complaint, most media coverage of Jordan Hankins’s suicide did not characterize it as having any relation to sorority hazing.
In late 2018, Hank Nuwer, the author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives, estimated in a CNN story that across the country, at least one hazing death had occurred each year since 1970, and by CNN’s count, more than 77 fraternity hazing deaths had occurred since 2005. Death by Greek-system hazing, in other words, is hardly an uncommon tragedy in American higher education, and as Caitlin Flanagan wrote in her 2017 Atlantic story “Death at a Penn State Fraternity”—about the death of Tim Piazza, a sophomore pledge who died in the campus Beta Theta Pi house—a certain sequence of events tends to transpire when a young man dies as a result of fraternity hazing. The fallout from Jordan Hankins’s death has, unfortunately, begun to follow the familiar trajectory for hazing deaths on college campuses. But her case, if it can even be considered a hazing death, would be a somewhat unusual one.