Mother of Cornell Student Sues Frat After Son Dies of Alcohol Poisoning

Marie Lourdes Andre learned a lesson about college that far too many parents have yet to understand.  College, while it is the place that can make your child’s dreams come true, is also a place where they can live out their worst nightmares.   Ms. Andre, the mother of a sophomore at Cornell University, is suing a fraternity for $25 million dollars after the fraternity’s leadership blindfolded her son, bound his hands and feet and made him drink enough alcohol to kill himself.

When George Desdunes went to the hospital, he had a blood alcohol level of .409, which was four times the legal limit, according to the suit filed by his mother.  Sigma Alpha Epsilon is the group to which her son donated his life, so they are the target of her lawsuit.

George was planning to become a doctor one day.  His mother also says that he was once in the church choir and played the trumpet.  Attorneys say that he was captured by freshman “pledges” of the fraternity, who set up a series of tasks and punishments for Desdunes that involved massive amounts of alcohol consumption.

“I call it inmates running the institution,” said Andre’s lawyer, William Friedlander, referring to the SAE hazing. “This is a terrible tragic case. He was a really great kid.”

After Desdunes reportedly passed out, he wasn’t taken to the hospital.  Instead, he was taken to the fraternity house, where he was still bound, and left on a couch in the library.  The housekeeper found him the next day and called 911, where he was announced dead at Cayuga Medical Center.

After being on college campuses for the last 22 years, it baffles me that there isn’t a greater effort to slow the epidemic of binge drinking that still takes place.  Alcohol was found by British scientists to be the most dangerous drug in our society, surpassing crack, heroin and all the other usual suspects.  For some reason, there are those who think that drinking and college should come as a package, as if drinking until you vomit every weekend is just a natural part of growing up.  Sorry my friends, but the reason your body is rejecting the alcohol is because it is invoking a defensive response to the fact that you are trying to kill yourself.

As you send your child to college, make sure they are fully educated on the dangers of binge drinking.  Every year, professors like me know for a fact that there are going to be so many rapes, murders, arrests, assaults and drunk driving accidents as a result of alcohol consumption.  There are students going to college this fall who will have their lives ruined during some kind of alcohol-related incident, and it will likely be because the adults around that child didn’t have the courage to warn him/her about the dangers of excessive drinking.

Just this year, I’ve written about an athlete (DJ Henry) who was killed by police at a night club after a night of heavy drinking, an Omega Psi Phi fraternity member who was shot at a party, and another group of young black football players who were shot at a night at the club.  While there is a part of me that clearly understands the desire to have fun in college (I had a blast), there is another part of me that wondered how much study time these kids lost during their hours of drinking themselves into a bad situation.  In fact, I know a long list of middle-aged alcoholics who took their first drink on a college campus.

The culture must be confronted, and we must help our kids make better decisions.  College must be a place to learn and grow, not the place where our children go to die.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


  • Shakka Zulu

    This is the express reason why I told my sons they were not going to pledge any fraternity when they were in college…I knew from first hand experience what happens to these initiates and was determined my children were not going to become victims…These social clubs which is what these fraternities are, are out of control…They have their own houses, they are not properly regulated by the campus and any and every thing goes on the weekends from date rapes, drugs, under age drinking, group sex, etc…I hope this mother prevails in her lawsuit..This gives a whole new meaning to the term dying to belong, because that’s exactly what happened to this young man…

  • Breed8909

    Dr. , Thank you for all your hard work education me to what is important and relavent in our world today. But as a father of a soon to be freashman you have helped to remind me of the pitfalls that I had neglected to cover in my letcures of time management, hardwork focus. I spent no time covering some of these inportant issue in my moment of pride.

    Thank you,
    Bria e. reed

  • VSDegraft

    So sad, a brilliant young man taken too soon. My prayers go out to the mom.

  • Lbamm

    All of this Frat initiation and hazing is out of control. Each year we hear of young men and women being severely injured. My prayers go out to the Family. This will not bring them any peace, but hopefully it will prevent another senseless death. Bless them for taking this action.

  • Terrill Wyche

    I hope that this young man’s mother wins a record settlement. That young man would not have been tortured this badly if the KKK, Skin Heads, Neo-Nazis, with an assist from the Khmer Rouge had captured him. It’s time for these fraternities to take full responsibility for these types of terrorist acts, wrongly referred to as ‘hazing.’

  • Dr. JJ

    I’m interested in knowing what the culture is like at Cornell.  At my undergraduate institution, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was a White fraternity that had no Blacks (I say it that way because there were some other White fraternities with 1 or 2 blacks).  I went to school in the south, and there was quite a bit of racist activity on campus at that time, but I would like to know if all the other pledges before him traditionally underwent the same treatment.  This sounds a bit more harsh than what I recall for the so-called “white” fraternities.  Then again, times have changed (though not that much) so I don’t want to create an issue where there may be none.

    • Shakka Zulu

      This is an all white fraternity and probably took in this young man as the only black pledge…Most of these black greek letter fraternities are under suspension for hazing and other infractions, this is the reason why some of these black young men who want to feel as if they belong to something, choose to go the all white route rather than going grad chapter black fraternity after graduation…I have seen some disgusting behaviors and things done to some of these young men in order to become frats, which is why we have got to tell our children doing dangerous things to belong to any social group is not the way to go…Getting blindfolded and taken undercover of darkness to do stupid things is not the way to become friends or get into the “brotherhood”…I remember a young lady @ Long Beach State I believe, who was pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc, drown when she was taken blindfolded to the beach to perform initiation rituals and she did not even know how to swim…This is crazy, some responsible person should have inquired of these women if they all knew how to swim prior to taking them to the beach…My condolences goes out to the parents of this young man…This chapter should be banned on this campus, all current members in leadership positions in this chapter expelled and all of the other fraternities and sororities need to do their house cleaning, and reform their initiation rituals…

  • Anonymous

    I am a member of a black breek organization, and graduated from a predominantly white, divison one university.  When I was in undergrad, SAE had no Black members, but clearly patterned themselves off of what they saw black fraternities on campus do such as having pledgees walk in line, step, wear combat boots, etc.  They were known on campus for excessive partying, and typically had their pledges drink alot, too.  Unfortunately, they were not the only ones on campus as alcohol poisoning and other alcohol related injuries (i.e., falls from windows, assualts and “acquaintence” rape) were pretty common when I was in college during “rush” or pledge season.  SAE’s bad behavior was so obvious, but for some reason, they were very popular, and school administrators did not seem to do much until someone got hurt.  I am saddened by this family’s loss, and do not want my sons to participate in frat life (their father is greek, too) until they graduate as a result of the frequency of incidents like this.