Mom of Northwestern basketball player sues sorority over daughter's death, alleging hazing led to suicide

The mother of former Northwestern University basketball player Jordan Hankins has filed a federal lawsuit against sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, alleging her daughter was a victim of hazing by sorority members that caused severe anxiety and depression and led to Hankins’ suicide in January 2017.

“During the pledging process, Hankins was subjected to various forms of hazing that caused her severe anxiety and depression,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result of the severe anxiety and depression from hazing, Hankins hung herself in her dorm room.”

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, by Hankins’ mother, Felicia Hankins.

Felicia Hankins declined to comment on the case on Thursday, referring questions to her attorneys. Attorney Thomas Vaughn said he had no additional comment at the time.

The lawsuit names AKA sorority; the Gamma Chi undergraduate chapter of AKA sorority at Northwestern; the Delta Chi Omega graduate chapter of the sorority, based in Evanston; Kathy A. Walker Steele, the former central regional director for AKA sorority; current and former Northwestern students and sorority members Alexandria Anderson, Jalon Brown, Alexandria Clemons, Cariana Chambers, Raven Smith and Bianca Valdez; the chapter’s former graduate adviser, Ava Thompson Greenwell; and the chapter’s former assistant graduate adviser, Ashanti Madlock-Henderson.

According to the lawsuit, Hankins was “subjected to physical abuse including paddling, verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial exploitation, sleep deprivation, items being thrown and dumped on her, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean her,” which affected Hankins’ “physical, mental, and emotional health.”

Hankins was required by members “to participate in an initiation ritual and hazing as a condition to being accepted for membership in AKA Sorority” in November 2016, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, Hankins “suffered damages including being made an object of ridicule, embarrassment, humiliation, pain, and suffering,” according to the lawsuit.

Hankins told sorority members that the hazing was triggering her post traumatic stress disorder, causing severe anxiety and depression and that she was having suicidal thoughts, according to the lawsuit.

Hankins was found dead on Jan. 9, 2017, after hanging herself in her dorm room, according to the lawsuit. She was 19 and a sophomore from Indianapolis. Hankins played guard on the women’s basketball team.

AKA was suspended from Northwestern’s campus in May 2017, Northwestern officials said. Officials declined to detail the reason for the suspension or elaborate further on it. The sorority will be allowed to return in September.

The lawsuit alleges that the sorority and its representatives “were negligent in allowing Hankins to be hazed” by permitting harmful activities, failing to warn the Northwestern chapter of the dangers of hazing and failing to adopt policies to prevent hazing, among other allegations.

The lawsuit alleges multiple counts of negligent supervision, including wrongful death claims; two counts of negligent entrustment, one of which is a wrongful death claim; multiple counts of negligence, including wrongful death claims.

“It was foreseeable that Hankins would commit suicide as a result of the hazing activities. Defendant AKA Sorority and its agents were advised that the hazing was triggering Hankins’ PTSD, severe depression and anxiety, she was mentally unstable, and she explicitly expressed she was suicidal and had a plan to commit suicide,” the lawsuit reads.

Northwestern spokesman Bob Rowley issued a statement Wednesday on behalf of the university.

“Northwestern remains deeply saddened by the death of Jordan Hankins two years ago, and we continue to send our kindest thoughts and condolences to her friends and family,” the statement reads. “We are aware of a lawsuit that was recently filed in federal court regarding her death. Northwestern University is not a named party in this lawsuit. The sorority involved has been and continues to be suspended from the University. Because this is a matter now in litigation, the University is not commenting further on the lawsuit.”

Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority has deep roots in Evanston. It is the sorority of longtime former mayor Lorraine Morton, after which the Evanston Civic Center is named. The Delta Chi Omega chapter was honored by Evanston City Council in September for celebrating the group’s 70th anniversary.

Sorority officials did not return messages seeking comment.

Chicago Tribune reporter Dawn Rhodes contributed to this report.

gbookwalter@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @GenevieveBook

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