The mother of former Northwestern University basketball player Jordan Hankins, who died by suicide in 2017, filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the sorority Hankins joined subjected her to hazing that caused her to suffer anxiety and depression before she killed herself.
Attorneys for Felicia Hankins filed the 50-page complaint in federal court against 12 defendants: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, its Northwestern chapter, its Evanston graduate chapter, the sorority's regional director, and eight current or former individual members of the organization.
Jordan Hankins, of Indianapolis, attended a rush event for the sorority in October 2016, the suit alleges, claiming that she then completed a "membership intake process" and performed in AKA's campus introduction show, known as a probate, on Nov. 20, 2016.
After the performance, the lawsuit alleges that Jordan Hankins was told "that as a condition of membership to be accepted she must agree to a post-initiation pledge process."
As part of that process, the complaint claims that the Northwestern sophomore basketball player "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."
The suit claims that the "defendants' conduct was intentional and done with the purpose of causing [Jordan] Hankins to suffer humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress."
"These incidents negatively affected Jordan Hankins’ physical, mental, and emotional health," the lawsuit states, alleging that she informed members of AKA that the experience "was triggering her PTSD, causing severe anxiety and depression and that she was having suicidal thoughts."
"Jordan Hankins was in the prime of her life and seeking to join an organization she believed was dedicated to sisterhood and personal and professional development," Brandon E. Vaugh, an attorney for Hankins' mother, said in a statement. "Instead, as a condition of her membership, it is alleged she was subjected to severe physical and mental abuse by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Despite repeated warnings that the hazing was triggering Hankins' anxiety and depression, we allege that AKA failed to take action to stop the abuse, resulting in Hankins taking her own life."
Jordan Hankins was found dead in her dorm room in the school's Foster Walker complex in suburban Evanston in the afternoon of Jan. 9, 2017. She was hanged and her death was ruled a suicide, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
"Jordan was a remarkably dynamic young woman," Northwestern's head women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown in a statement at the time. "This is a devastating loss for our basketball family."
"She brought an unwavering intensity and commitment to everything in her life. We will miss her enormously," McKeown continued.
Hankins was an All-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference First Team honoree as a high school junior, according to Northwestern’s website. She was also a National Honor Society member and was on her high school’s Distinguished Honor Roll since 2011 and wanted to study biological sciences at Northwestern, the website said.
The university said in a statement that it "remains deeply saddened by the death of Jordan Hankins."
"The sorority involved has been and continues to be suspended from the University," a spokesperson for the school said in a statement, noting that Northwestern itself was not named in the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that Jordan Hankins' death was "foreseeable" and seeks unspecified monetary damages.
"It is critical that we hold the sorority and the individuals who were personally involved accountable - and to eliminate these dangerous and deadly rituals before another tragedy occurs," Vaughn's statement read.
Representatives of AKA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.