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TDX appeals disbanding decision, citing efforts to intervene before student’s 2020 death

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This story includes references to a student’s death that may be troubling to some readers.

More than a year after a student died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in the former Theta Delta Chi (TDX) house in January 2020, Stanford disbanded and unhoused the fraternity, stating that TDX violated the Fundamental Standard by failing to report the presence of illicit substances in the house. 

But, in the days prior to the student’s death, TDX residents had alerted Residence Deans (RDs) and emergency medical technicians when they observed signs of what appeared to be a separate, but not lethal, overdose on Jan. 15, 2020. Now, TDX is appealing Stanford’s decision, asserting that the months-long Organizational Conduct Board (OCB) investigation into the fraternity failed to fairly assess the events leading up to the student’s death. A summary of the appeal was circulated to over a thousand TDX alumni and several University administrators.

The Daily interviewed multiple then-TDX residents familiar with the incident to confirm that both RDs and paramedics were told of the student’s symptoms on Jan. 15, 2020. According to these residents, paramedics were also told on Jan. 15 that an overdose was suspected, and on the day of the student’s death, Jan. 17, EMTs told a resident that they found a bottle containing fewer pills than it had when the first apparent overdose occurred. It is unclear if RDs knew that students suspected an overdose prior to the student’s death or that the student was in possession of the pills. The symptoms communicated to the on-call RD, however, align with what the CDC states are signs of an opioid overdose.

Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris told The Daily that “We will update the University community at the end of the appeal process.” In response to several questions regarding the events of Jan. 15, 2020, the OCB findings and the status of the fraternity’s appeal, she wrote that Stanford has “no new information to provide currently.” 

On Jan. 15, 2020, the then-Resident Assistant (RA) observed that the student was unable to stand up, move or talk, and had pinpoint pupils. The RA then called TDX house’s RD, the on-call RD and 9-1-1. He suspected the student was experiencing a drug overdose, and said so to the three paramedics who arrived. The student declined to go to the hospital, and his symptoms subsided. Neither RD arrived at the house, but a record of some of the symptoms and the paramedics’ response was labeled a “non-priority” in RD logs. Both the TDX RD and the RD on-call that night declined to comment.

Palo Alto Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McNally, whose department oversees Emergency Medical Services, confirmed to The Daily that a medical call was made to TDX on Jan. 15, 2020. McNally said he could not provide more details due to HIPAA. 

The student died less than 48 hours later. The Santa Clara County coroner concluded that the cause of death was an accidental fentanyl overdose. Hours after his death, an AlertSU was sent to the Stanford community warning of counterfeit prescription pills that actually contain fentanyl. The County reported in May 2020 that 19 fentanyl deaths occured between Jan. 1, 2020 and May 8, 2020, and some were associated with fake oxycodone pills containing lethal doses of fentanyl. 

In the months following the student’s death, students organized in support of providing Narcan access and training on campus. The ASSU Undergraduate Senate proposed and later tabled a resolution to provide dorms with Narcan (naloxone) kits, a nasal spray that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids. In October, the Senate and Graduate Student Council passed a joint resolution advocating for all Stanford community members to have access to naloxone training and receive free Narcan after completing the training. 

Over the past academic year, a group of students launched the The Campus Opioid Overdose Prevention (CO-OP) Project to provide the training and free Narcan to those who complete it. After coordinating with the Santa Clara County Opioid Overdose Prevention Project, a team of four students have provided training and Narcan to over 100 students this academic year, said Max Moss ’21, one of the students. 

CO-OP provides optional training, as Moss said mandatory training of RAs would place “a huge moral and practical burden” on them.

“They need to know who to call in that moment of medical crisis,” he said. “To mandate this really extends beyond the definition of what an RA currently is.” 

Information about the training has been added online to the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education’s website. Harris did not respond to a question about the extent to which RDs receive training in recognizing an opioid overdose. 

Stanford’s decision to disband TDX following the investigation also diverged from OCB’s recommended sanction, which included community service, random searches and an educational project, according to the appeal summary. OCB policies note that the associate vice provost and dean of students may reject, modify or accept OCB’s recommendation. Harris did not respond to questions about the recommendation, nor how it factored into the final decision. 

“I’m confident that the University is going to look at our appeal and understand that the fraternity acted in a way to try to help the member,” said TDX Alumni Association member Cyd Zeigler ’95. “I am confident that the University is going to reverse its decision, and work with the fraternity to make it even stronger.”

The appeal summary also alleges that OCB has not provided TDX with all relevant evidence found in the investigation, including transcripts of 20 interviews with witnesses, and that OCB heard the case without live witnesses or cross-examination. OCB policies state that representatives from the student organization being investigated should be provided with all relevant documentation prior to the hearing. They also state the organization’s representatives’ duties include submitting “written questions to the OCB Panel Chair during the questioning of witnesses, if any.” Harris did not respond to questions about the evidence found in the investigation or requests for documentation of it. 

This story has been updated to reflect that the on-call RD contacted on Jan. 15, 2020 declined to comment.

Contact Julia Ingram at [email protected]

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Julia Ingram ’21 was The Daily's Volume 256 editor-in-chief. She is a New York City native majoring in English literature and working toward a career in news reporting. Contact her at jingram ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.