Editorial: Starkeys inspire change in the face of tragedy

All four of the young men involved in the hazing death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey have now been sentenced to jail terms ranging from 6 months to 30 days.

Our initial reaction: That hardly seems punishment enough, considering that an 18-year-old boy was forever taken from his family on account of a stupid, senseless and cruel act. Had it been our son or daughter who was encouraged to drink a lethal amount of alcohol, we can imagine ourselves so outraged that we would demand at least the maximum term of a year in jail, if not felony convictions.

Then we read over statements from Carson Starkey’s remarkably courageous parents, Scott and Julia Starkey, and were both inspired and humbled by their ability to focus not on vengeance, but on how to best prevent any more tragedies of this type from occurring.

“ we move forward committed to stop hazing, create cultural change and promote the moral obligation to help others,” Scott Starkey said at Thursday’s court hearing. “We will use all means necessary to assure success. We will not tire nor will we fail.”

Carson Starkey’s mother then thanked San Luis Obispo police and county prosecutors “for achieving justice in the death of our son.”

Indeed, the fact that there were convictions at all is significant. Too often in the past, hazing cases in California and elsewhere have been dropped because the responsible parties could not be identified or the injured victims would not cooperate with authorities.

That’s a trend that must be reversed.

Sending students to jail for taking part in hazings that cause deaths or injuries is the best way to send a message that this type of reckless behavior is a criminal act — not a pledge week prank.

And requiring students convicted of hazing incidents to warn others of the consequences also should be a high priority.

To that end, we believe it would have been appropriate to order the defendants to take larger roles in anti-hazing education.

The two men sentenced last week — Adam Marszal and Russell Taylor, both 23 — were given the choice of performing 40 hours of community service or giving two school presentations on the dangers of alcohol and hazing. Why give them a choice? And why stop at just two presentations?

Education is key to changing the mind-set of young people heading to college. What better way to educate them than to allow them to hear a first-hand account from someone who took part in a tragic hazing incident?

Absent court orders, we strongly urge the defendants in the case — as well as other students and former students who may have taken part in hazing — to accept the challenge issued by Scott Starkey to “join the movement to expose hazing and help change the culture in which it thrives.”

The best way to honor the memory of Carson Starkey is to follow the fine example set by his parents, who are working to end this dangerous and degrading practice.

To learn more about efforts to end hazing, go to www.withcarson.com