June 12, 2017
Following the death of 19-year-old Penn State fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza during a party in February, reportedly fueled by peer pressure to over-drink, the conversation about better Greek-life practices has dominated the Penn State community.
Earlier this month, the school announced new safety measures to avoid similar tragedies in the future and released a set of initiatives aiming to “reform” the Greek-life community. Notable measures include the permanent revocation of any Greek chapter using alcohol and physical abuse during hazing and “strict social restrictions.” The initiatives also state that social events will be monitored by University staff.
Also notable is Penn State’s decision to postpone any Greek-life pledging by freshmen starting in the 2019-20 school year. New students will not be allowed to rush a fraternity or sorority until after they enter their sophomore year.
“I want to emphasize again, the safety of our community is of essential importance, and the University is determined to move swiftly to put these initiatives in place,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said. “These are actions that require careful planning, resources and partnership with not only our Greek-letter organizations but their alumni boards, housing boards, councils and national organizations, and the Greek-life response team will be critically focused on increasing well-being and safety and the impact from these measures.”
The five-person response team is pulled from several administrative offices throughout the university and is comprised of seasoned staffers, some of whom are also school alumni. Though it includes members pulled from notable departments, including Keith Morris from University Police and Public Safety, the team is comprised solely of white men and is noticeably lacking in diversity.
Penn State has more than a dozen historically multicultural Greek-letter organizations, and the list of women's sororities is double that.
The task force also comes amid conversations happening adjacent to the changing of Greek-life policies: lack of diversity among faculty and staff. Last October, a town hall was held to discuss how to solve this lack of diversity, and similar panels have been held throughout the school year.
As part of the university’s “All In” initiative, Barron and Vice Provost of Educational Equity Marcus Whitehurst seek to “expand and celebrate diversity, inclusivity and equity” in the Penn State community.
“We have a long way to go,” Barron wrote in a blog post in January. “This isn’t a light switch. At the same time, much is happening that is worth celebrating, and we have the potential for ‘All In’ to have a lasting impact.”
Barron’s next blog post, an open letter to Penn State’s Greek community in April, came following Piazza's death.
For Penn State's full announcement of the Greek-life response team, click here.