'Culture of abusive hazing' alleged at Young Harris College

8:25 PM, Apr 29, 2013   |    comments
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YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. -- Before she started classes at Young Harris College in 2012, freshman Jo Hannah Burch enthusiastically pledged with a sorority called Gamma Psi. She immediately regretted it.

"It was rough. I was hazed for four nights," said Burch, from Savannah. "We were blindfolded and taken to a creek. And we were in the freezing creek for two or three hours."

Burch says the hazing left her bruised, scratched and unable to sleep or eat.

"This was torture. I had no idea what I was getting into," Burch said.

Burch says she complained to the college administration. Young Harris's president is Cathy Cox. A decade ago, Cox was Georgia's Secretary of State. She ran for Governor in 2006, losing the Democratic primary to then-Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor.  Then Cox disappeared from politics. 

Governor Sonny Perdue defeated Taylor in November.

"My dad actually called Cathy Cox, our president, and he told her what was going on," Burch said.  

"And she said, 'these things happen. It's been going on on our campus.'"

Burch filed a lawsuit against the college, accusing it of "reckless indifference, to a widespread and well-known culture of abusive and sexually charged hazing."

Young Harris College's spokesman Jay Stroman called the lawsuit "outrageous."

"The college has a no-hazing policy, and we take it extremely seriously," Stroman said. "The student development office investigated it, determined that at some level something went on. And immediately took action."

Stroman says Young Harris suspended the Gamma Psi sorority for a year, but did not discipline individual students.  Gamma Psi is a local sorority with no national chapter, Stroman and Burch said.

The lawsuit also alleges that two faculty members were fired by Young Harris College for helping Burch blow the whistle on its alleged culture of hazing.

"It's pretty clear, based on the way they treated these two individuals, that they were angry with them, they were upset with them. Both of them had excellent performance from the job reviews," said James Radford, the attorney who filed the suit.  

The school says the instructors were fired after Burch complained-- but that the firings were unrelated to hazing allegations.

"I think it all goes back to two disgruntled faculty that are just trying to get back at the college," Stroman said.

Stroman says Cathy Cox was never indifferent to Burch's allegations. Burch is transferring to another school this fall.

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