After Timothy Piazza’s death, Penn State’s Interfraternity Council admitted to his parents that his agonizing demise rested squarely on Beta Theta Pi, whose brothers lacked the humanity to get him medical help.
“The fraternity experience failed your son,” the student-led board said in a statement about the Gitmo-quality hazing of Piazza on Feb. 2 at Beta Theta Pi (whose motto, ironically, is "men of principle").
"Failed” sounds so much more delicate than “killed,” doesn’t it?
But was it only the brothers who “failed” Piazza? Where were the sisters — specifically, members of Trilogy, a female campus organization, who participated in the “social” hosted by Beta Theta Pi at the frat house on the night Piazza drank himself into a stupor?
He fell multiple times, fractured his skull, lacerated his spleen, and died. Because that's what a 0.36 blood-alcohol level will do to you.
The Centre County grand jury presentment in Piazza’s death mentions three Trilogy attendees who were interviewed for the investigation. At least one of them is under 21, and none was charged in the presentment (which recommended a range of charges for 18 Beta Theta Pi members, including involuntary manslaughter).
I can't stop thinking about these young women. It’s one (despicable) thing for the cowards of Beta Theta Pi to fear consequences to their frat if they'd dialed 911. Presumably, the Trilogy ladies, as guests, would have had nothing to lose by seeking medical help for Piazza.
So why didn’t they? No one from Trilogy responded to my Facebook message seeking comment, so all we can do is wonder:
Maybe they simply didn’t see Piazza, or left before the worst began, or were too scared to admit they’d been at such a wild party. Maybe they saw but failed to comprehend Piazza’s distress: So many pledges were careening and puking around the Beta Theta Pi mansion, perhaps Piazza got lost in the stinking mix.
Or maybe the ladies had been to so many boozy Penn State parties that the sight of another passed-out dude was no biggie.
Interestingly, Trilogy is an outgrowth of Delta Delta Delta, a sorority whose Penn State charter was yanked in 2009 because of “hazing and risk-management violations.” Its national organization never elaborated on what those violations were. But I’m betting they were more Code Red than, say, neglecting to change the batteries in Tri-Delt’s smoke detectors.
Trilogy was created by former Delta Delta Delta members who wanted to maintain the disgraced sorority’s connection with Kappa Delta Rho – a fraternity with which they had shared fund-raising activities for PennState Health’s Children’s Hospital.
Presumably, the pairing went well until -- oh, darn -- Kappa Delta Rho was booted out of Penn State in 2015 amid hazing allegations of its own, as well as allegations of sexual harassment, drug sales, and underage drinking.
Bad boys, bad boys — what'cha gonna do?
No matter the reason for the inaction of Trilogy attendees, they managed to kill any lingering hope I held – until reading that chilling presentment – that Piazza might have survived had a sensible female been on hand to see beyond the chest-thumping. By and large, aren’t we supposed to be the more nurturing gender, instinctively prone to help?
Unfortunately, Hank Nuwer says, “alcohol is the great leveler between the sexes.”
Nuwer is a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana and author of Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing and Binge Drinking. He has noted with alarm the increased level of comfort that students of both sexes have with binge drinking. Although more males than females have died in hazing-related incidents, he says, females tend to become especially bold, hazing-wise, when in closer proximity to males.
Case in point: In 2008, members of Utah State University’s Chi Omega sorority were charged in the death of Sigma Nu fraternity candidate Michael Starks, whom they “kidnapped” during pledge activities and forced to drink a lethal dose of vodka.
“The decisions made while people are intoxicated are not the same as they make when they’re perfectly sober,” says Nuwer.
If only someone of any gender had been sober enough to make a life-saving decision for Timothy Piazza.
Or, failing that, if only their booze had provided them the liquid courage to call for help, damn the consequences to their un-brotherly fraternity.