Before 19-year-old Timothy Piazza died in February after an evening of fraternity hazing, his chapter was considered to be a model for Greek life at Penn State.
Beta Theta Pi claimed to have “zero-tolerance” for hazing, a “no alcohol” policy, and a chapter house wired with surveillance cameras to monitor the premises for infractions. But then, Piazza died.
When his body was finally taken to the hospital, 12 hours after he first passed out, he had 4 liters of blood in his abdomen, severe splenic lacerations, a hemorrhagic shock, and an estimated blood alcohol content of 0.4, which is roughly 4 times the legal limit.
How can a fraternity lauded as a national model suddenly become yet another example of where college ribaldry that too often leads to someone’s death? Penn State’s 82 fraternity and sorority chapters have a long history of hazing that wasn’t adequately addressed by the administration.
Just two years ago, Kappa Delta Rho was found guilty of sexual harassment and misconduct after an investigation by State College Police uncovered two private Facebook groups that had posted photos of nude, unconscious women, as well as evidence of drug sales and hazing. The chapter’s penalty: a three-year suspension.
Penn State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter was found guilty in 2015 of hazing, alcohol violations, disorderly conduct, providing false information, and other infringements. Except for a death occurring, Pi Kappa Phi’s violations mirrored Beta Theta Pi’s. Yet, it too received only a three-year suspension.
Before Piazza’s death, Penn State permitted 45 social events per semester where alcohol is allowed, according to the university. That’s roughly three a week, which hardly seems like encouragement to study.
The grand jury that indicted 18 students in Piazza’s death said Penn State’s Interfraternity Council had “cultivated such a permissive atmosphere regarding excessive alcohol consumption, that Timothy Piazza’s death … was the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct that demonstrated a reckless disregard for human life.”
Penn State President Eric Barron considered ending Greek life on campus altogether after Piazza’s death. But fraternities and sororities lashed back with the familiar argument that it’s unfair for the entire Greek community to be blamed for the mistakes of one house.
Barron said Greeks at Penn State are four times as likely to be heavy drinkers as the general student population; sorority women are 50 percent more likely than other female students to be sexually assaulted, and that fraternity men are 62 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault than other male students.
Knowing that, why would the university impose rules that are blithely ignored?
But this isn’t just a Penn State problem. All colleges should investigate every allegation of hazing, even minor incidents. All students should be required to attend anti-hazing orientations. All Greek houses should be alcohol free. And don’t just write rules, enforce them with harsher punishment than a temporary suspension.
Pennsylvania legislators should consider banning the practice of pledging to join a Greek organization. Fraternities can still be selective. The tradition too often is a thinly-veiled excuse for hazing.