April 11, 2017

PSU president: 'Incomprehensible' frat death, new rules drive Greek life underground

Universities Students
100416_PennStateUniversitymain Source/Penn State University

Penn State University.

An open letter from Penn State University President Dr. Eric Barron strongly condemns the "incomprehensible" story surrounding the death of sophomore Timothy Piazza at a February fraternity party and further laments that rules imposed since the incident appear to have driven an "underground" operation of campus Greek organizations.

Barron's letter, published Monday, starts by openly "wondering if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Greek life" at Penn State.

Piazza, 19, died after reportedly becoming intoxicated during an alleged hazing incident at the Beta Theta Pi campus chapter. When he fell down a set of stairs, sustaining multiple internal injuries and a traumatic impact to his brain, members of the fraternity apparently declined to seek medical help for him until nearly 12 hours later.

"All indicators suggested a 'model' fraternity. Yet, a death occurred because a student was forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol in a hazing ritual. The story is even worse," Barron wrote. "The story is incomprehensible."

Penn State's clampdown on Greek organizations dates back to the revelation in 2015 that members of the Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) fraternity were using Facebook pages to discuss the sale of drugs and distribute nude photos of unconscious women. A subsequent investigation uncovered hazing, sexism and other forms of harassment.

The university responded by stripping KDR of recognition for three years and forcing fraternity members to vacate their chapter house. It was the most severe penalty the university could impose at the time, and a task force was established to provide running "report cards" on Greek organizations, ostensibly with the goal of informing students about problem chapters. 

What happened at Beta Theta Pi, Barron explained, forced the university to take much more extreme measures, such as temporarily suspending recruitment and banning future freshmen from rushing Greek organizations. Kegs are now prohibited, only wine and beer may be served, and all alcohol must be distributed by RAMP-certified vendors, preferably third parties. Stricter monitoring protocols and hazing enforcement have also been implemented.

Penn State has not ruled out the possibility of "declaring that the system must be completely dry," Barron wrote.

The problem, however, is that the limited exceptions the university made during Parents Weekend were openly violated by numerous Greek organizations. An email from the Interfraternity Council (IFC) leader even urged members to keep alcohol upstairs to escape violations.

"If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes underground, and if there is no willingness to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault," Barron wrote, "then is there any hope?"