MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Five years following the death of Nolan Burch, West Virginia University has launched the “Would You?” campaign, to advocate against hazing and encourage people to help those in need.
Nolan Burch died when he was taken off of life support after he had participated in a hazing event held by an unsanctioned fraternity that included chugging a bottle of bourbon, according to a press release from the university.
The release stated that this incident sparked the University, in cooperation with the Burch family and alumni, to more aggressively combat the culture of hazing, alcohol use and other behaviors that endanger students.
The release stated that research shows that each year for the last six decades, there has been at least one fatality from fraternity hazing, and Congress is considering legislation that would require universities to post incidents of hazing on their campuses or by their organizations.
“Since 2014, our University has worked to create awareness and improve student safety,” President Gordon Gee said in a letter sent on Thursday to the WVU community. “We have reformed Fraternity and Sorority Life and pursued a fundamental reset of our University’s culture — urging students to work smart and play smart.”
University officials stated in the release that WVU intends to be a leader in fighting hazing, and other unsafe behavior, and the Burch family has partnered with and praised the university for its efforts.
“Ultimately, we all bear responsibility for protecting each other. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of Nolan’s death is that prompt medical attention could well have saved him. That is why we are spreading the word: No one should fear the consequences of calling for help,” Gee said.
The “Would You?” safety campaign launched on Wednesday, November 13 with the premiere of the documentary “Breathe, Nolan, Breathe”, which tells Nolan Burch’s story and draws attention to many acts that could have changed the outcome of that night. The documentary can be watched on YouTube.
The documentary was created by Daniel E. Catullo III, of City Drive Studios. Catullo is an award-winning filmmaker who attended WVU, joined Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity as a student and remains active in the national organization.
“When I saw the Dateline episode, I felt compelled to step up and do something about this,” Catullo said, referring to the NBC news program on hazing issues that featured the Burch case among others. “Being a former WVU student and having a close relationship with the University, I couldn’t not use my connections and abilities to try to stop this from happening again.”
“What makes this particular story so heartbreaking is that it easily could have been avoided if someone called for help,” Catullo said. “It’s my mission to ensure that this never happens again, and we help create an environment where we all watch after each other.”
Additionally, the release stated that WVU hopes “Would You?” can serve as a model for other universities as they combat the issues involved.
“Somebody asked me if there was a point that night where Nolan could have been saved,” says Joshua Dower, the emergency doctor who treated him that night. “The answer is, ‘yes.’”
The campaign focuses on anti-hazing, medical amnesty laws and bystander intervention resources and will aim to better equip students to help those in need in critical and potentially life-threatening situations. Additionally, the “Would You?” campaign asks questions such as, “Would you help those in need? If someone were left unconscious due to an alcohol and hazing incident, would you call 911? If someone were being harassed on a night out, would you intervene or call someone to help? If someone were struggling in a class and you had the ability to help, would you?”
“If somebody’s hurting somebody, that’s not a brotherhood, that’s not a sisterhood, that’s somebody hurting somebody,” Kim Burch, Nolan’s mother, says in the documentary. “Just get somebody help if they need it. That’s basically what our goal is … to educate others and not have another Nolan.”
The release stated that the Burch family has joined several other families in a national organization to combat hazing. While the family acknowledges that it’s not always easy to relive their story time and time again, Nolan’s father TJ Burch said “We love talking about Nolan, and all of it is about saving a life.”
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