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Victim's Mother Starts Anti-Hazing Group

October 13, 2002|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A mother who believes her daughter, a Cal State Los Angeles student, was participating in a sorority ritual when she drowned last month, announced on Saturday the founding of Mothers Against Hazing, a nonprofit organization she created to end dangerous pledging practices.

Patricia Strong-Fargas told a crowd of nearly 40 people who gathered at an Inglewood restaurant that she blames Alpha Kappa Alpha, a prominent black sorority, for the death of her daughter, Kristin High, 22. High, who had a 2-year-old son, drowned in the waters of Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey on Sept. 9.

High's family recently filed a $100-million wrongful death lawsuit against the sorority. It claims Alpha Kappa Alpha members led a blindfolded High into strong waves late that night as part of a pledging ritual that is popular among black fraternities and sororities on the West Coast.

Another Cal State L.A. student, Kenitha Saafir, 24, of Compton, also drowned that night. Like High, Saafir was pledging the sorority.

Police have said that the drownings were accidental. There was no evidence of wrongdoing, and no blindfolds or ropes were found at the scene. But hazing has not been ruled out and the investigation is ongoing, police said.

Lawyers, family and community members claim Alpha Kappa Alpha members have refused to provide information to help the investigation.

At least five other women were at the beach that night. Three of those women were members of the sorority and the other two were pledges.

"This movement is not about bringing down black fraternities or sororities. We have a lot of support for what they do," said Angela Reddock, an attorney for the family. "But it is about uncovering this world which we all know exists."

Mothers Against Hazing will pressure lawmakers to adopt stricter anti-hazing laws and demand that fraternities and sororities prohibit hazardous pledging customs, Strong-Fargas said.

Hazing is a misdemeanor defined under state law as any act that may cause degradation and mental or physical harm. Strong-Fargas wants the state to adopt a "Kristin Law," named after her daughter, to make hazing a felony.

"It could be your child next, and I don't want that to happen," she told the gathering at Farmer's Restaurant.

Holman Arthurs, 25, held a photograph of High, his fiancee, with the couple's son, Skyler. A woman in the audience wiped away tears when Arthurs said, "She was the love of my life."

"Every day I am faced with answering the question, 'Daddy, where's Mommy?' " Arthurs said. "There are people out there that know what happened. [They] are part of the organization and they need to speak out."

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the National Alliance for Positive Action, a public advocacy group that promotes social change, said he is motivated to work with Strong-Fargas because she is unwavering in her fight for justice. The alliance coordinated Saturday's discussion.

"Here is a mother who is not just sitting back and weeping," he said. "She's determined to do something about it."

He said he hopes Mothers Against Hazing will raise awareness among parents and students, as well as push for stricter punishment for those caught engaging in such practices.

Strong-Fargas said the organization also plans to create mentoring and scholarship programs for women.

"I want to call on mothers of any children involved in fraternities or sororities to come out and band with the community to stop this," she said.

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