In December 2013, Baruch College freshman Chun Hsien Deng accompanied his new fraternity brothers to the Poconos. He didn’t return.
At first, his death was a regional story in the New York Times, which reported on page A29 that law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania were investigating the incident. Deng had been involved in an outdoor game called “The Glass Ceiling” — a metaphor that his Asian-American fraternity used to depict the difficulty of breaking into the American mainstream.
“It involves blindfolding a person and placing a heavy item on his back,” the Times reported in December 2013. “He has to navigate to someone who is calling for him, and as he makes his way, others try to tackle him.”
Now that the investigation has led to murder charges, the story is front page news. I’m not going to repeat the gruesome details. But buried deep in the Times’ latest story is this item that caught my eye: As Deng was in obvious physical distress, his fellow students “reached out to the fraternity’s national president at the time.”
His name is Andy Meng.
The prosecutor’s charges distinguish defendants based on levels of culpability for Deng’s death. Five people will face third-degree murder charges. How about Andy Meng, the supposed adult whom the students consulted for advice?
Apparently, the charges against Meng involve “hazing and hindering apprehension.” His lawyer proclaimed that Mr. Meng “was not in Pennsylvania at the time of [Deng’s] death, had no role in his medical treatment and did not commit any wrongdoing.”
As you’ll see, silence would have been a better approach.
Role Model Extraordinaire
What did Andy Meng allegedly do?
According to the Times article about the grand jury report, Meng “told [the students] by phone to hide everything showing the group’s symbol.” Evidently, one member told police, established protocol was to “first put away fraternity letters, paddles, banners, etc.”
Maybe the evidence at trial will show that Meng’s first and foremost concern was not to protect the fraternity. Perhaps he urged the students seeking his advice to do the right thing and do it quickly — seek professional medical attention; call an ambulance; get help ASAP. If so, his lawyer hasn’t included anything to that effect in his statement.
More importantly, if Deng gave that advice, the students didn’t follow it. Instead, they wasted valuable time. They fretted about the cost of an ambulance. One member talked to a friend whose grandfather had fallen and died recently. None of them did the obvious — call 9-1-1.
An hour passed before three fraternity members took Deng to the hospital. By then, he was “mumbling, shivering and snoring.” It was too late to save him.
Lessons Never Learned
All of this has now devolved into the ultimate lose-lose-lose situation. Deng died. The cover-up effort to protect the fraternity failed because the police found paddles, signs, and notebooks bearing the fraternity’s logo. And now 37 people face criminal charges, including five young men for third-degree murder.
Andy Meng isn’t among those charged with murder. His alleged response to the students’ plea for guidance produced charges of “hazing and hindering apprehension.”
Meng’s alleged behavior suggests that he wasn’t around to learn the lesson from President Richard Nixon’s fate: If the crime doesn’t get you, the cover-up will. It’s so much easier to the right thing at the outset, but that requires knowing what the right thing is.
For Andy Meng, the correct response to a frantic call from young fraternity brothers in the Poconos on that December night should have been clear — even for someone who “was not in Pennsylvania at the time.”