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Punishing College Group Little Consolation To Mom Pocatello Woman Lost Her Son To Hazing At University Of Texas

Sat., June 17, 1995, midnight

It is small consolation to Ruth Harten Muffett of Pocatello that a Texas university has revoked a student organization’s status after her son died in a college hazing incident.

But she welcomes the penalty after the fact.

“I sent my son to an institution of higher learning, not a war,” she said. “I expected him to come back with an engineering degree in his hand and a smile on his face, not in a coffin.”

Gabriel Benjamin Higgins, 19, a sophomore in the University of Texas at Austin, died April 29 in the Colorado River about 30 miles east of the school.

Higgins was majoring in mechanical engineering and pledged with the Texas Cowboys, one of about 700 registered student groups at the university.

Sharon Justice, dean of students, this week announced the Texas Cowboys’ status has been canceled until May 2000. It is the third penalty imposed on the club in as many years.

Justice said a university investigation found Higgins died during a traditional Cowboy initiation event known as “Picnic,” and it constituted hazing.

Picnic entailed drinking among underage initiates, calisthenics, tackling, paddling new members and eating hotdogs covered with tobacco.

The Cowboys cannot use university facilities, take part in intramural activities or raise funds on campus.

Muffett said her son died about 2 a.m., but the Cowboys did not alert authorities until noon that day. The club helped in the investigation.

“I’m optimistically surprised that UT has recognized this as hazing,” Muffett said. “However, I think this is only one step of many that needs to be taken to ensure that hazing will be abolished as an abusive, archaic practice. The fact it is still going on appalls me.”

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