Bloomberg has an interesting feature on Deborah Dunklin Tipton of Memphis, a native of Pine Bluff and heiress to an Arkansas agricultural fortune, who’s put her money to work investigating the death of her son Robert in 2012 of what’s been ruled an accidental drug overdose following fraternity hazing at High Point University in North Carolina.

Tipton, 68, who has a lawsuit pending, questions the official account and believes suppression of information is rooted in the influence of her son’s fraternity, to which the college president’s son also belonged.

The article places the story in context of questions about fraternity life nationwide.

Parents like Deborah Tipton are fighting to pierce the veil of secrecy that has protected fraternities for two centuries on American college campuses. Grieving families are pushing to investigate deaths once dismissed as roughhousing gone wrong. They are forcing universities and legislatures to publicize fraternity infractions, rein in their behavior and toughen the penalties after injuries and deaths. Tipton belongs to a group of 25 families that lost sons at fraternities in recent years. Members of Parents United to Stop Hazing hope to borrow pages from the successful playbook of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in the 1980s.

For now, few fraternity casualties ever result in punishment or any kind of serious reckoning, though the permissive dynamic has been shifting because of a confluence of trends: Cell phones and video cameras have captured evidence that would have previously been impossible to gather, litigation from families has held fraternities to account and more zealous prosecutions have drawn public attention and outrage.

It’s an interesting story, timely, too, given the rash of recent reporting about the fraternity life of Brett Kavanaugh. Tipton has spent more than $1 million getting inside the fraternity her son joined.


We’ve mentioned Tipton before, in a 2015 reference to a $50 to $75 million auction of Arkansas farmland to settle a family dispute with her brother.