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Sorority hazing led to Northwestern student's suicide, lawsuit claims

A Northwestern University basketball player killed herself because of severe hazing she endured while pledgi...

Posted: Jan 11, 2019 3:51 PM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 3:52 PM

A Northwestern University basketball player killed herself because of severe hazing she endured while pledging to the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in the fall of 2016, according to a federal lawsuit filed by her mother this week.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Illinois, claims sophomore Jordan Hankins killed herself in her dorm room in January 2017 because of hazing practices that "negatively affected (her) physical, mental, and emotional health."

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Hankins "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," according to the suit.

Hankins told AKA members the hazing was triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder, "causing severe anxiety and depression and that she was having suicidal thoughts," the lawsuit alleges.

On January 9, 2017, Hankins was found dead in her dorm room.

The national sorority is named in the lawsuit alongside its undergraduate and graduate chapters at Northwestern, in addition to the former regional director of the sorority and multiple individual members.

Sorority currently suspended from university

Hankins played for the Northwestern women's basketball team. According to her bio on the Northwestern Athletics website, she was a member of her Indianapolis high school's National Honor Society and planned to study biological sciences in college.

AKA is a predominantly African-American sorority based in Chicago. Its website boasts 300,000 members across more than 1,000 chapters. Sorority officials did not immediately respond to CNN's requests for comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

A spokesman for Northwestern University -- which is not a defendant in the lawsuit -- said in a statement, "Northwestern remains deeply saddened by the death of Jordan Hankins two years ago, and we continue to send our kindest thoughts and condolences to her friends and family."

AKA is currently suspended from Northwestern University, according to the statement. "Because this is a matter now in litigation, the University is not commenting further on the lawsuit," the statement says.

Sorority was 'negligent' in allowing hazing

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of multiple counts of negligent supervision and negligent entrustment and makes several wrongful death claims.

The sorority's members and officers "were negligent in allowing Hankins to be hazed," the lawsuit claims, and failed to seek medical attention or report the hazing after Hankins said it was causing her severe emotional distress.

The sorority prohibited hazing during its founding in 1908, according to the lawsuit.

It reiterated its opposition to hazing in 1999, but it has failed to address the issue, which the lawsuit calls "a well-known occurrence."

The lawsuit points to multiple instances over several years when hazing allegations were made against the sorority.

Hazing is illegal in Illinois and is typically considered a misdemeanor. However, in cases where it leads to great bodily harm or death, it is a Class 4 felony.

Police did investigate Hankins' death, according to Cmdr. Ryan Glew, executive officer of the Evanston Police Department. But the investigation did not lead to criminal charges.

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