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Reflections in the Glass Ceiling: Lessons from a Minority Fraternity Hazing Death

By February 21, 2018April 6th, 2022No Comments

In 2013, Michael Deng, a freshman at Baruch College, died after being assaulted by his Asian American fraternity brothers as part of a hazing ritual for new pledges.  Members of the fraternity were convicted criminally and sentenced to jail.  The fraternity also was convicted, and a civil lawsuit is pending.  Deng’s fraternity, Pi Delta Psi, was founded by Asian American university students with an aim of promoting the success of Asian American students.  They named their hazing ritual the “Glass Ceiling.”

One can safely guess that naming the hazing ritual “glass ceiling” likely symbolized the fraternity members common goal of breaking through racial and cultural biases barring them from the top echelons of their professions.  Professional success through affinity networking, arguably, is the most important long-term benefit of Greek Life.  During the university years fraternity members may contribute philanthropically and enjoy social events but the real value of such bonding comes after graduation.  Fraternal affiliation can be an entry into the executive boardrooms that remain closed to minorities.

Deng’s death, like many hazing deaths, seems like it would have been easy to prevent.  Blindfolded and tackled repeatedly to the ground, Deng began groaning and became unresponsive.  His fraternity brothers then left him without medical attention for hours out of fear of repercussions for the fraternity.  An autopsy revealed he suffered multiple traumas to the head and that the delay in medical treatment contributed to his death.  The violence and delay could both easily have been prevented.  Why wasn’t it?


Much has been written about hazing violence in Greek Life and the alcohol abuse and sometimes even sexual abuse that may accompany Greek Life.  The reasons behind such behavior are complex but there is no question that these destructive behaviors are now an omnipresent part of Greek Life.  Why do minority student fraternities and sororities imitate it?

Maybe the answer lies in the very reason minority students choose to emulate white majority Greek Life.  Frustrated at the lack of connections and mentors in their professions, minority students understandably look to create their own networks with exclusively minority Greek Life being one of those networks.  If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then minority students need to ask themselves why they wish to flatter a system they believe is racist or otherwise stacked against people of color.  They should challenge the assumptions that the dark side of Greek Life is necessary to the benefits of Greek Life.  They should create a new kind of networking one based not on the traditions of racially exclusive fraternities, but one based on new values.  Abuse and violence must be eradicated and deemed intolerable.


The physical assault of a minority student by his fellow minority students as part of an initiation ritual into an organization that seeks to combat racial prejudices is tragically ironic.  Hazing rituals like the one that killed Deng are meant to symbolize the violence and oppressive subjugation imposed by the majority upon the minority.  Presumably the fraternity brothers of Pi Delta Psi believed that engaging in their symbolic initiation strengthened the bonds in their fight against their real opponent.  Instead, they perpetrated the worst crimes of racial violence upon their own fraternity brother.

Glass is not just transparent.  It also reflects.  What do we see when we look up at the glass ceiling?  Ourselves.


These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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