in Ethicist

The Ethicist: 1 November 2017

Can I Turn In a Bad Fraternity at My Son’s College?


My son is on his college football team…. One of my son’s teammates joined the “football frat.” During the hazing process, the young man was severely injured and had to quit the football team…. My question is whether I should alert the chancellor of the university to the situation. The teammate explicitly requested that no one be told about what happened to him…. I think the chancellor needs to know…. I am debating sending an anonymous letter or arranging to meet with the chancellor in person.

Correct answer:

There is a reason why “anonymous coward” has a certain meaning on the internet, and 99% of the time that someone is considering sending an anonymous letter, the answer is no. The only exception is when someone genuinely does not know what’s happening and must be alerted to it.

Your son’s friend is an adult and knows about the hazing that cost him the chance to play football; your son is an adult and knows about the hazing that cost his friend the chance to play football. The football team and fraternity are both comprised entirely of adults who know about the hazing that cost your son’s friend the chance to play football. Most critically, the university administration almost certainly already knows what’s going on.

Avoid the urge to be a drama queen. This is not your business, so stay out of it.


A relative of mine, after the breakdown of his long-term relationship with his boyfriend, fell into a deep depression, losing his job in the process…. His depression is severe…. He traveled to Southeast Asia and met a much younger man, with whom he fell in love…. money he had saved up disappeared. He invested heavily in the new boyfriend’s business and lost it all. During the last visit, the new boyfriend claimed he had to go visit his family and never returned. My relative says that if he can’t find a way to stay in Southeast Asia, he will kill himself…. Is the moral and loving thing to do to let him continue the search for love, which ruins him, or should we try to intervene?

Correct answer:

Suicide is permanent, so when someone is suicidal, or potentially suicidal, the right thing to do is always to intervene. Everything else is irrelevant: it doesn’t matter if or how you are related to the person, what caused his depression, that he’s on a “search for love” or that somebody else says it’s “situational.” So you must intervene, but you also must draw a line beyond which you will not cross.

Where should that line be drawn – what is acceptable and what isn’t? It’s difficult to say, but after speaking to your relative and referring him to psychiatric support, you might consider alerting the State Department, and border authorities in the unnamed Asian country, that an American citizen has been threatening suicide over or during trips there. Don’t kidnap your relative, though. Ultimately, depressed people need to want to get better in order to get better.