West Virginia University on Wednesday temporarily banned 16 fraternities from engaging in social and recruiting activities in an effort to combat what it called “continued behavioral issues.”
WVU President Gordon Gee said the decision comes amid a growing national debate over Greek life on college campuses, with several institutions banning fraternities and sororities or
tightly clamping down on activities in the wake of problems. Gee didn’t identify any specific incidents in Morgantown, but said the university has “had a few of our own in recent weeks.”
“I cannot in good conscience as your president stand by and do nothing,” Gee said.
The university’s Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life will lead a review of Greek policies and procedures and determine which fraternities should be invited back to “full recognition” status in the upcoming fall semester.
In addition to the moratorium, WVU is immediately raising the required grade point average to join a fraternity or sorority to 2.75 from 2.5. By 2020, a 3.0 GPA will be required.
The moratorium applies to the following fraternities: Alpha Gamma Rho, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Sigma Phi, Kappa Alpha Order. Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Delta Theta, Phi Gamma Delta, Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Sigma Kappa, Pi Kappa Alpha, Pi Kappa Phi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Theta Chi.
The university said they will be allowed to continue basic fraternity operations, brotherhood events and philanthropic and service activities.
The moratorium does not apply to traditionally African American fraternities and sororities and other sororities that belong to the Panhellenic Association.
In January, a University of Pittsburgh student was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after drinking to excess at an off-campus recruitment event for the Sigma Chi fraternity. Pitt officials said this month that police did not intend to pursue charges against Sigma Chi or its members, but the fraternity would remain on interim suspension while Pitt’s offices of Student Affairs and Fraternity and Sorority Life continued to review the incident.
Penn State University President Eric J. Barron called this month for new state and federal laws and cooperation from national Greek life organizations to end dangerous drinking and hazing rituals. Barron’s call came nearly a year after Timothy Piazza, 19, died after falling down a flight of steps at Penn State’s former Beta Theta Pi house and fraternity brothers waited 12 hours to call for help. Several fraternity brothers face criminal charges.
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review assistant news editor.
After a hazing death at Florida State University, President John E. Thrasher shut down fraternities and sororities in November and promised major reforms. Those new rules have now been announced, but experts in Greek life aren’t convinced they can be enforced, however well-intentioned they may be.
The death of Pi Kappa Phi pledge Andrew Coffey, 20, prompted Thrasher to ban alcohol among the Greek chapters and student-run organizations. He halted the activities of all fraternities and sororities, proclaiming the entire network of 50-some Greek chapters needed to be reworked with the help of students.
Notable among the stringent new measures announced this week were restrictions on the ways and how often Greek organizations can serve alcohol at parties.
Academics and experts have often cited alcohol and the pledging period as the two factors that lead to hazing and deaths among Greek organization members.
Florida State now requires all fraternities and sororities to use a third-party vendor to supply their booze. Students can’t stand behind the bar and serve it themselves, and in theory, this would eliminate underage drinking, as those outside providers would check IDs. Only a certain number of events with alcohol are allowed per semester — four socials in the fall and six in the spring. Greek chapters need to hire approved security for parties with alcohol, too.
The “rush” recruitment period has also been reduced from eight weeks to six.
While these steps can improve the health of the Florida State Greek system, true change will only come with the total elimination of pledging and alcohol-fueled parties, said Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College who has written extensively about hazing.
“That is not going to be attractive to a lot of undergraduates, but that will be the return to values, a return to what we hoped for,” Nuwer said.
Complicating matters are the innumerable spaces — the off-campus apartments and houses — where fraternity and sorority members can go to drink, outside the purview and watch of the university. Thrasher acknowledged this at a press conference this week.
“One of the things we’re asking the fraternities and sororities to do themselves is monitor those kind of things,” Thrasher told reporters. “And understand the ramifications … We can’t necessarily control that. What we control, though, is the idea that this is a bad activity that resulted in a terrible, terrible tragedy. And I hope that’s what’s getting through.”
Hechinger said he was particularly impressed with Florida State’s new policies on alcohol, saying they could reduce overdoses and sexual assaults. Many of the national branches of fraternities have in their rule books that the chapters must serve alcohol via these vendors, but that’s hardly ever followed, he said. Some of the nationals also permit a BYOB system that limits how much alcohol members can bring to social events, but again, it’s rarely enforced, he said.
“It’s very elaborate, with wristbands, and you’re supposed to track each beer and limit them per person, but it’s never done correctly — that’s a joke,” Hechinger said.
Doing away with the pledging period would also be more effective, Hechinger said.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity did this four years ago, and the number of injuries — and thus their insurance rates — dropped, Hechinger said.
Nuwer was skeptical that a two-week reduction in the recruitment period would make any sort of difference, but he said the constituencies to which Florida State answers would have objected to a complete ban. Prominent donors and alumni would likely withdraw their cash.
“It’s all about money at this time,” he said.
Thrasher also announced changes to the academic and philanthropic requirements of Greek chapters. Every fraternity and sorority must maintain an average 2.5 grade point average, and every member must complete 10 hours of service per semester. National chapters will visit Florida State to help chapters review all their members. Nick Altwies, founder of the Society Advocating Fraternal Excellence, a pro-Greek group, likened the reviews to an annual employee evaluation — “making sure they’re adding something to the company.”
A new “scorecard” is being published on the Florida State website with information about all the chapters. This emulates a system put in place by Penn State University, which also had a high-profile hazing death, that of Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza, last year.
Florida State’s database will include details of a chapter’s conduct violations — if it hazed its members, or if a member committed a sexual assault, said Amy Hecht, Florida State’s vice president for student affairs.
It will also list average member GPA, chapter size and the adviser-to-member ratio, average hours of community service and amount of money raised for charity, as well as awards and achievements.
The university is also adding four new employees to its Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, funded by new membership dues. Their titles, roles and salaries have yet to be determined, Hecht said.
Chapters are also now being required to create individual advisory boards — Hecht said the university hasn’t figured who will sit on these panels yet.
Hecht said during the press conference that she was confident the chapters would “hold up their end of the deal,” but if they flouted the rules they would be subject to punishment under the university’s conduct code.
“We will remain vigilant in assessing our campus community, the effectiveness of programs, policies, and initiatives, and we will hold our students accountable per our student and student organization codes of conduct. Sanctions include probation, suspension and dismissal for both students and organizations depending on the violations,” she said via email.
Previously, a five-student panel would hear conduct cases involving Greek organizations, but the university is adding faculty and staff members to those.
The alcohol ban remains in effect, but Hecht said that it could be lifted by the end of the semester if the fraternities and sororities show they’re following the new rules.
Heather Kirk, a spokeswoman with the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which represents many fraternities nationally, provided a statement to Inside Higher Ed: “While we have concerns about the implementation of a student fee and ensuring an economically inclusive fraternal community, the national fraternity organizations look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with local stakeholders to enhance health and safety in the FSU community through these measures.”
Altwies said as long as the restrictions are enforced, they could change the Greek life system for the better — he said the university was clearly intent on transparency, too, with the scorecard.
“It’s impossible to create a policy that’s completely going to eliminate problems — it’s really, really, really tough to do, but with the expectations they’ve outlined, with more university staff, problems can be solved if you work through them,” he said.
One year ago today, on February 2, 2017, our son Tim was excited and anxious to begin his initiation into the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity at Penn State University. Of the three fraternity bids he received, he accepted Beta Theta Pi. They were self-described as an alcohol-free, hazing-free fraternity and allegedly placed a high emphasis on academics. He felt like they shared his values. Two days later, on February 4, 2017, we watched as our son was taken off life support at Hershey Medical Center as a result of the injuries he sustained in connection with the egregious hazing he experienced on that night of initiation and the self-preservation on the part of numerous fraternity members. The cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries, including a fractured skull, lacerated spleen and a severe brain bleed. He just wanted to join an organization. How could this happen?
The nation, and much of the world, one year later knows that Timothy J. Piazza, our amazing, caring, good hearted 19-year-old son – the strapping red head from western New Jersey known for his love of life and desire to help those in need – was the victim of violent, organized fraternity hazing and brutal neglect. That’s not on his death certificate, but that’s what we get to live with every day.
Tim’s death was a slow, painful passing that was graphically captured on videotape by the fraternity’s unmonitored security system. To this day we have not watched the videotapes when they have been played in the preliminary hearing court proceedings, but we have urged Penn State officials, including the President and his Board of Trustees, to do so (that has yet to happen). Eventually, it is our hope that a jury will have the opportunity to watch the videos (including the recovered basement video) and hear all of the evidence in the criminal case brought by prosecutors after an extensive Centre County Grand Jury investigation. Despite our never-ending sorrow and pain, we have faith in the justice system and hope for the day when all those responsible for Tim’s death will be held accountable.
We also continue to hope and pray that once and for all – working with other advocate-parents – we can help bring an end to senseless, preventable hazing deaths in America. Tragically, Tim’s death was the first hazing fatality in 2017, but by no means was it the last. We now belong to a national club no parent should ever aspire to join. On February 23 and 24 we, along with other parents who have lost children to hazing, will come together for our inaugural conference in Greenville, South Carolina.
The media and other parents repeatedly ask us what to tell their children that are thinking of joining a fraternity or a sorority. First, we urge them to have the conversation. We discussed pledging with Tim and he assured us that if he joined a fraternity, he would pick the right one. Tim and the other pledges were deceived and a darker side of that fraternity was revealed, as forced alcohol-fueled hazing intensified in the ‘dry’ house run by ‘Men of Principle’.
Never would Tim think his soon to be “brothers” would abuse him and then leave him to die. It is important to talk openly about what has transpired this past year, and over many years, and to remind your children that they are important to you. Tell them to take nothing at face value, be cautious, guard against peer pressure. And should they decide to pledge, pledge as a group. Make sure somebody your son or daughter trusts always has their back. If at any time they are concerned for their safety or the safety of others, they need to follow their instincts and leave before it’s too late and call for help.
It is too late for Tim, but it is not too late for your son or daughter.
Jim & Evelyn Piazza February 2, 2018
James and Evelyn Piazza are the parents of Timothy J. Piazza. They authorize the publication of this Open Letter to Parents. Additional information on the Tim Piazza Memorial Foundation can be found
The Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation | Oldwick, NJ
Timothy Piazza’s death last year after attending a Penn State fraternity pledge party marked the first hazing fatality of 2017.
But tragically, it wasn’t the last.
In fact, three more college fraternity pledges died across the country last year, marking one of the worst years in recent memory for hazing deaths.
As the one-year anniversary of the death of Timothy Piazza approaches, his parents announced they are joining forces with other parents who have lost children in hazing incidents for a national conference later this month.
“We now belong to a national club no parent should ever aspire to join,” Jim and Evelyn Piazza wrote in an open letter distributed Wednesday night. “It is too late for Tim, but it is not too late for your son or daughter.”
Families of hazing victims hope their unified voices can end the “business as usual” mindset that says this madness cannot be stopped, according to a news release for the inaugural conference Feb. 23 and 24 in Greenville, S.C.
A mother who lost her son to hazing at Clemson University in 2014 helped to organize the event, according to Jim Piazza.
Penn State officials also released a letter this week, noting the upcoming Feb. 4 anniversary of Piazza’s death and announcing that they would participate in a conference of Big Ten officials in April to discuss the future of Greek life at member universities.
Piazza suffered mortal injuries Feb. 2, 2017 after falling down a set of stairs inside the Beta Theta Pi house at Penn State. He had been served 18 drinks in 82 minutes during an alcohol-chugging obstacle course known as “the gauntlet” and an ensuing party where brothers repeatedly gave drinks to pledges.
After Piazza, 19, was injured, no one called for help for nearly 12 hours, according to court records, and fraternity brothers later deleted text messages and deleted basement surveillance video. He later died at a hospital.
The situation bore eerily similarities to the Nov. 3 death of Andrew Coffey after attending a pledge party for Pi Kappa Phi at Florida State University. He was reportedly given a bottle of bourbon by his “big brother,” which he consumed before passing out on a couch while others continued to play pool.
The next morning, Coffey had no pulse. A fellow pledge called and sent text messages to five fraternity members before calling 911, according to a grand jury presentment.
The 20-year-old Coffey had a blood alcohol level of .447 at the time of his autopsy.
More than half of the fraternity members later refused to be interviewed by police, including seven out of nine members of the executive council, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Parents of hazing victims across the country plan to band together later this month is to “support one another, open dialogue, and formulate a plan to work closely with leaders in government and universities to help change the current culture on American campuses,” according to a news release.
The group also intends to develop strategies to strengthen hazing laws on both the state and federal levels, to seek justice for victim’s families and hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable for their actions.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza wrote in their open letter that their son chose the Beta Theta Pi house, advertised as alcohol-free, over two others because he believed they shared his values.
“Never would Tim think his soon to be “brothers” would abuse him and then leave him to die,” the letter said. “It is important to talk openly about what has transpired this past year, and over many years, and to remind your children that they are important to you.”
The Piazzas also advised parents to talk to their college-aged students about being cautious, taking nothing at face-value and guarding against peer pressure.
“And should they decide to pledge, pledge as a group,” the Piazzas advised. “Make sure somebody your son or daughter trusts always has their back. If at any time they are concerned for their safety or the safety of others, they need to follow their instincts and leave before it’s too late and call for help.”
In Timothy Piazza’s case, he did not know other pledges or fraternity brothers well before he joined. None of them attended his funeral services.
Much of Timothy Piazza’s final agonizing night inside the Beta house was recorded on video and Piazza’s parents want Penn State trustees and President Eric Barron to watch the entire video, hoping it will strengthen their resolve to change Greek culture.
But “that has yet to happen” The Piazzas said in their open letter.
On Thursday, university officials said Barron and the board leadership “are willing to watch the video, with heavy hearts, both to respect the Piazza’s wishes and determine whether anything in it will aid our continued efforts, should it be made available to us.”
The former prosecutor handling the case said last year she would not share the video with university officials now that a criminal case had been launched.
While the changes have made a difference, Barron wrote in a letter, “significant problems remain.”
The fact that 13 other Greek organizations at Penn State have received multi-year suspensions for safety violations shows the university “means business,” Barron said, but it also demonstrates that “many students have ignored the call for behavior change and fallen short of our values and expectations.”
Barron also called on parents and Greek alumni to provide a higher level of support to their chapters through guidance and mentoring.
“Sadly,” Baron said, “we found in our monitoring that parents of students in some chapters helped students violate the law and University rules against alcohol consumption.”
The entire letters from the Piazza and Barron are included below.
Considering more than half of SMU’s undergraduate population wears Greek letters, it may surprise no one that I’m in a sorority. I joined a Panhellenic chapter in the Spring 2016, and I’m happy. I feel at home with my sisters, I’ve learned skills from experiences with my chapter and I’ve forged deep friendships. While each sorority chapter is unique, you won’t find a house without women who have had the same experience.
Going Greek is not a mortal sin.
But I won’t pretend the sorority system is flawless. The process of joining a sorority can be brutal from the start. I remember sobbing when I rushed two years ago, not because I was sad, but because I was too mentally exhausted to work through another outlet. Even being in a sorority is intense, from all the practice it takes to perfect chants when everyone has lost their voices to late nights setting up for the next day. And that only scratches the surface.
Just as Greek life isn’t an unforgivable offense, neither is choosing to abstain. Even trying it out and leaving early is an option, albeit sometimes an expensive one if dues have already been paid. However, to each their own.
A problem arises when that choice is made for an entire population of women in one fell swoop. I would be more surprised that policies affecting women are enacted without consulting a single woman if that wasn’t already a notable American habit.
Harvard University enacted penalties on all members of single-gender organizations. Affecting the Fall 2017 freshman class, the institution is barring members from leadership positions in recognized student organizations, becoming varsity captains, or receiving endorsements from Harvard for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes scholarship. This is a bold move from a university that refuses to officially recognizeGreek organizations; Harvard had four fraternities, four sororities and a multitude of similarly structured final clubs.
In response, two fraternities and five final clubs have opened membership to both men and women. Both Alpha Epsilon Pi and Kappa Sigma disaffiliated from their nationals to do so and rebranded themselves “Aleph” and “KS”, respectively.
Harvard president Drew G. Faust set these penalties in May 2016. Now, the goal is to “phase out” all social groups from the campus by 2022.
Supposedly, the administration is looking to stop discrimination in the selection process, which apparently justifies discriminating which of their students can hold other positions and fellowships through Harvard. The initial reason for the change was a 2016 report linking single-gender social clubs to women being sexually assaulted.
Again, sororities are being attacked because women are getting assaulted by men, particularly those involved in fraternities and final clubs.
This isn’t a one-off. In November, Florida State University instituted a temporary suspension of Greek life after a fraternity pledge died and two fraternity members were arrested on drug trafficking charges. Similar crimes at Louisiana State and Texas State University led to bans on all Greek life last semester, again on the part of fraternity men. Yet, sorority women are punished.
In response to Harvard’s prejudiced initiative, sorority women across America took to social media with the hashtag “Hear Her Harvard.” Each told the same general story: sororities support their members and should not be penalized for the criminal activities of fraternities and male final clubs.
In any organization, there are issues that aren’t in the news; sororities are no exception. But I know my personal experience and the experiences of thousands of other women don’t add up to nothing. Don’t generalize to make your job easy. Leave women their safe spaces with their sisters. Don’t remove them and claim it will stop sexual assaults.Punish the parties responsible, not the victims.
Fraternities and sororities would be banned at Tennessee’s state colleges and universities under a newly filed bill.
The legislation, HB 2042, would, however, allow professional fraternities that promote “the interests of a particular profession” and honor societies.
All other fraternities and sororities “shall not be recognized or otherwise permitted to associate with, or operate on the campus of, any state institution of higher education,” according to the measure.
The bill’s sponsor is Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and the University of Memphis.
Talk of banning fraternities and sororities has heated up in recent years as universities throughout the country have dealt with a spate of high-profile hazing incidents.
Last year the University of Tennessee placed Sigma Phi Epsilon on social probation after reports of “extreme intoxication and injury requiring medical attention” at an event.
In late 2016, the headquarters of Sigma Chi suspended the fraternity’s UT-Knoxville chapter after revelations of new members being “physically, mentally and emotionally harassed/hazed.”
During the 2016-17 school year, the university imposed disciplinary sanctions against fraternities for six instances of hazing.
The issues haven’t been contained to the state’s flagship campus. Last year a University of Memphis fraternity was shut down and suspended for five years for “violating the student code of rights and responsibilities.”
As of publication, DeBerry’s legislation does not have a Senate sponsor. All bills must be sponsored by members of both legislative chambers to have a hope of passing.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hundreds of young women filled the student center at Pennsylvania State University one day last week, excited and hopeful that they would leave with what they came for: an invitation to join the sorority of their choice.
“Bid day” had arrived on the university’s flagship campus. There were photo booths, confetti cannons, balloon arches, loud singing and chanting, as young women clutching yellow envelopes with offers rushed to meet their new sisters.
“Everyone is so excited to have these new members,” said Lauren Eskin, 20, a finance major from Horsham and president of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. “People are, like, breaking down the door to get in to meet them.”
By the time it was over, Penn State sororities had welcomed 1,000 new members into the sisterhood, a path that includes philanthropic endeavors and community service, and brings a built-in set of friends, some of whom will last a lifetime if prior experience is any indication.
But this year, sororities at Penn State and on other campuses are being called on by their national conference to do more: Drive critical change in the Greek community, as schools crack down on out-of-control drinking, hazing, and other unruly behavior at fraternities. The very preservation of the Greek-life experience could be at stake, said Carole Jones, chair of the National Panhellenic Conference, which oversees 26 member sororities with more than 418,000 undergraduate members.
“We just feel it’s time that our women become more engaged in the fight against hazing and alcohol abuse,” said Jones, a retired journalist and member of Alpha Omicron Pi. “If women decide as a group that they are going to stand up against something or decide they want to change a culture, I think they have strength in numbers, and the men will follow them.”
Sororities most often aren’t the ones getting in trouble. Their members aren’t the ones dying in high-profile hazing and alcohol-related deaths, and, at least at Penn State, they tend to be much better academic performers.
But sororities still feel vested, because they often co-host parties with fraternities, partner on projects, and see themselves as part of the same community.
“Solving these issues is not just for the men’s groups in a vacuum,” Jones said. “We have to be part of the solution. A lot of times our women are bystanders, and they need to stand up and report if something is happening.”
Members of the national conference, along with outside experts and university staff from schools including Texas Christian University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Illinois, plan to come up with recommendations for the full board to consider in May.
Sorority members on local campuses, including Molly Bankuti, 21, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha at Lehigh University, like the proposal. She also serves as president of Lehigh’s Panhellenic Council, which includes nine sororities.
“We could do more to hold people accountable,” said Bankuti, a finance and accounting major from Sudbury, Mass. “It’s our community, so it’s also our responsibility. People see Greek letters, they don’t know if they are a sorority or a fraternity, so we inherently have to feel responsible for that.”
The North American Interfraternity Conference also is working on improvements, including a pilot program launched this month to remove hard liquor from fraternity events, provide safer social gatherings, and emphasize a “more balanced, academic-centered fraternity experience,” said Heather Kirk, chief communications officer.
It’s been nearly a year since Penn State sophomore Tim Piazza died after an alleged booze-fueled hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi house during his bid acceptance party. In the aftermath, the university made several changes, including prohibiting freshmen from joining sororities or fraternities until they earn 14 credits and have a 2.5 GPA; for most that means waiting until second semester.
At Penn State, 13 fraternities are under suspension for violations, including hazing and alcohol-related infractions. In comparison, only one sorority — one that is not under the National Panhellenic Council — has been banned for hazing.
“It is uncommon for us to receive reports related to allegations of misbehavior for sororities,” said Danny Shaha, Penn State’s interim assistant vice president for student rights and responsibilities.
Fraternities are more prone to sanctions because they have private off-campus houses where socials, sometimes serving alcohol, are held, Shaha acknowledged. No sororities have houses; they each have a suite and a floor in a campus residence hall where some members live.
But reasons for the difference run deeper.
Sorority advisers and alumnae generally play a more hands-on role, and the national sorority offices “are much more involved with the activities of the local chapters, setting expectations, following through with those expectations, and holding accountable chapters that may not live up to those expectations,” Shaha said.
Alpha Omicron Pi wouldn’t consider hazing or mistreating new members, Eskin said.
“If you’re mistreating someone during their first two weeks in the chapter, they’re not going to be loyal to you for the rest of their life,” she said.
The group doesn’t even have a pledge process. The day members receive their bid, they are allowed to wear the sorority’s letters, she said.
“We consider you part of our chapter, one of our sisters,” Eskin said.
Sorority women also tend to be stronger academic performers than their fraternity counterparts. Of the 22 Panhellenic sororities, 19 groups, or 86 percent, had an average GPA higher than — or in one case equal to — the overall average for female students at Penn State of 3.27, according to the university’s Greek report card for fall 2017.
The 150 members in Alpha Omicron Pi scored an average GPA of 3.54, making it one of 10 sororities with a 3.5 or higher.
In comparison, 22 of 39 fraternity chapters — a little more than half — had a GPA higher or in one case equal to the overall average for male students of 3.1, according to the university’s data.
None had an average GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Kirk, of the national fraternity conference, said the average GPA for all their fraternities is higher than the overall male GPA.
At Penn State, sororities tend to stress academics and have built-in standards, said Evan Ditty, assistant director for training and development in Penn State’s fraternity and sorority life office.
“Many of them require a 2.7 or 2.8 to get into the chapter,” he said, “and they have to maintain certain GPAs to remain a member in good standing.”
Teresa DiGioia, 19, a sophomore and president of Kappa Alpha Theta, said members are held to high academic standards.
“We have a GPA requirement, and girls can’t hold offices if they fall below that,” said DiGioia, whose 155-member sorority had an average GPA of 3.53 last semester.
Members who struggle also are required to meet with a scholarship adviser, who steers them toward peer mentors and other help.
The emphasis on academics was part of the appeal for DiGioia, a marketing major from Rockville, Md.
“I wanted to become part of something bigger than myself at college,” she said, “and I knew right off the bat a sorority could be that thing for me.”
Eskin knew, too. Her mom, a Penn State graduate, was in one and still has many of her sorority friends.
“Seeing that it’s a lifelong thing, I grew up wanting that,” she said.
Both Eskin and DiGioia said they also enjoy being part of a group that helps others. Alpha Omicron Pi donates to arthritis research, participates in Penn State’s Thon, which raises money for pediatric cancer research, and raises money for the community’s homeless. Kappa Alpha Theta, also in Thon, helps provide support for children in foster care.
Eskin welcomes the national initiative to improve Greek life and sees the need for it.
“There is a lot of room for improvement on this campus and nationwide,” she said. “I would hope that something like this would work, and people would stop the call to end Greek life. I would hope people could see all the immense benefits that are coming from it.”
During my Miami University days, before I knew I would have to put away most of my little boy toys and mentalities and start slugging it out in the adult world, I was a member of a fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. At Miami in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that was absolutely the thing to do for guys looking for ways to enhance their social lives as a counterbalance to our serious-minded approach to our studies (hard to get through the last half of that sentence without a chortle or two).
Miami has always been steeped in the Greek tradition. As a matter of fact, the university actually is home to no less than five alpha chapters, thereby richly deserving the moniker “Mother of Fraternities” as an homage to its 175-year Greek history. Across our nation on so many campuses, fraternities will tell you they adhere to the same five principles of the Greek community — scholarship and learning, service and philanthropy, leadership, community and brotherhood — that I was expected to uphold.
I’m not sure back in my frat days, though, that I or any of my mates were doing much to advance the causes implied by those principles. Having said that, however, the fraternity experiences I remember bear no resemblance to the all-too-frequent stories of today involving alcohol-fueled hazing and the tragic results that have followed.
From my initial involvement with the Sig Eps as a pledge in the spring of 1970, all the way to my last days as a Brother of the Golden Heart, I neither was subjected to nor did I subject others to anything that was inordinately humiliating or, worse yet, physically harmful.
Recently, I’ve thought a whole lot more about my big fat Greek times from long ago, especially when I read of pledge deaths caused by being coerced by peer expectation to consume massive amounts of alcohol to prove worthiness to join an organization, which, of course, registers a zero on the logic scale.
In 2017, there were four well-publicized cases where lofty fraternal ideals still listed in handbooks were cleared off the table to create more space for a few more bottles of Jack and Jim, which led to deaths on the campuses of Florida State, Texas State, LSU and Penn State.
Currently, a number of universities are doing far more than looking disapprovingly in the direction of their frat houses and issuing slaps on the wrist for alcohol-related incidents. Many have suspended all fraternity operations, showing an unwillingness to put their university in line for a black eye. What once was a system used as a selling point to entice a potential enrollee has now become a liability in the minds of many administrators.
And, like so many societal ills that seem to be far more prevalent now as we roll into the 21st century’s 18th year, it has been documented there has been at least one hazing death every year since 1961.
Perhaps the difference is now many are willing to shed more light on these totally unnecessary and senseless tragedies. Author Hank Nuwer, an anti-hazing activist, has written two books on the subject and, with no great sense of joy, is in the process of writing a third, entitled “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” to be published later this year by Indiana University Press.
As for my own recollections of my initiation week in that spring of 1970, the alcohol-related events were mild in a time when the legal drinking age was 18 for low-test beer. For example, imagine a couple of pledges standing nose to nose and being given an Alka-Seltzer tablet to put in their mouths and being told to take a swig of beer so that we could foam all over one another. Silly, yes, but harmful, no.
Contrast that with the death of Tim Piazza at Penn State, where security cameras in the frat house revealed he was given 18 drinks in a 90-minute period, resulting in a state of intoxication so extreme that he fell down a flight of stairs.
Looking back on my times, much of what we were expected to do was actually either educational or helpful to the eventual bonding we hoped to engender with the rest of the house. For example, we were expected to recite the Greek alphabet seven times on a burning match or face the “rigors” of 10 pushups. And, we were expected to keep a small notebook with us at all times and study and memorize the name, hometown, major and girlfriend’s name of every member of the house to avoid buying a member a pop if he so desired. To this day, I can still repeat that Greek alphabet, and I will always remember Bill Pierce was from Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.
My hope is that fraternities and other organizations such as bands and athletic teams are willing to reconfigure what parameters they use to initiate new members in ways that are long on welcoming, with a little silliness thrown in, and nonexistent on anything that humiliates or, worse yet, imperils.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Penn State to Florida State, colleges across the country have been joining an ever-lengthening list of schools with recent high-profile fraternity fatalities tarnishing their records. And just last week, Pitt nearly joined that list, too.
A member of the Sigma Chi fraternity chapter on campus was hospitalized after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol at a party. Fortunately, he’s safe now.
In light of this debacle, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner put all fraternities and sororities on social probation, banning the presence of alcohol at any Greek event for an unknown period — a mostly inconsequential slap on the wrist considering the gravity of the situation.
“This is a sobering reminder of the importance of examining the culture of our campus and our collective and individual roles in defining who you are and who you ought to be as a fraternity and sorority community,” he said in a letter to Pitt’s Greek community last week. “I look forward to our discussions.”
It seems we often rely on incidents like this to spark any serious discussion of all the ways Greek life undermines the goals of higher education. Pitt and other universities should work to promote diversity and inclusion, encourage critical thinking and prepare students for the working life after college.
But even a cursory look into the stunt-driven, habitual blowout party culture typical of Greek life shatters any delusion that universities are achieving these goals. A mere glimpse should be enough to alarm universities across the country.
As an executive member of an actuarial professional development fraternity — Gamma Iota Sigma — I recognize the unfairness of painting all Greek life with the same brush. While many frats and sororities exist primarily for superficial social purposes, there are still those whose focus is on engaging in community service and contributing to charity. Likewise, the organization I help run devotes itself to corporate outreach and membership development — rather than parties and contests of who can give themselves alcohol poisoning the fastest.
Yet many fraternity-related “accidents” appear inextricably linked with fraternity culture itself — a majority of hazing deaths are connected to the organizations, with others related to marching bands and sports teams. The death toll for this kind of recklessness has remained in the hundreds since the beginning of Greek organizations, with binge drinking seemingly encoded in Greek life DNA. According to a 2001 study from Harvard University, undergraduates involved in a fraternity or sorority were more than twice as likely to report “frequent” binge drinking than their unaffiliated peers.
Given that binge drinking severely hampers judgment, it’s no wonder fraternity members are over three times more likely than the average college student to commit sexually aggressive acts, according to a 2005 study from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. On the other hand, women who are members of sororities are nearly 75 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted, according to the same study. This has devastating implications not just for students involved in Greek life, but for the safety of women on campus as a whole.
Why, then, has so little action been taken to address these issues? The answer is abundantly clear: money. According to research from Laura Hamilton, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, alumni donors who were in fraternities as undergraduates hold a disproportionate amount of influence over colleges’ donation schemes.
“A lot of alumni are really beholden to their Greek organization,” Hamilton told the online magazine Alternet in a 2015 interview. “So you might also lose donation dollars if you decide to get rid of these organizations.”
As long as they’re in the pockets of the administrators, it will be difficult — but not impossible — to eliminate Greek life’s negative effects from campus. All it takes, as proven by the universities who have succeeded, is the prioritization of integrity and student safety above their own greed.
After an investigation provoked by Delta Kappa Epsilon in 1988, Middlebury College, for example, did away with Greek life altogether. The frat had hanged a brutally beaten female mannequin, soaked in blood-red paint and covered in sexually explicit slurs, off the balcony of its house that May.
Sexual assault had been rampant in the frat — this display was a disgusting show of the members’ pride in their despicable acts, and, thankfully, the tipping point for the college. By 1990, Middlebury had issued an ultimatum to Greek life organizations on its campus, requiring them to either go coed or close their doors.
The incident at Pitt’s chapter of Sigma Chi was severe enough to warrant the kind of scrutiny that led to the abolishment of Greek life at Middlebury. Even though the frat scene at Pitt — with only about nine percent of students participating in Greek life — isn’t as influential as most other large public schools, the influence that it does exact on the University can often be negative.
And while there may be less extreme solutions than removing Greek organizations from the University’s social life altogether, frats and sororities can’t be trusted not to continue dangerous, abusive behaviors off campus. That much should be obvious from the response among Pitt’s Greek life groups that the temporary ban on alcohol at frat parties was an overreaction to last weekend’s incident at Sigma Chi.
Given Middlebury’s success, banning fraternities and sororities on our campus would certainly reduce rates of binge drinking and sexual assault. But let’s not say we’re setting naming standards for our clubs — let’s say we’re setting behavioral standards. Instead of a blanket abolition of frats — which would unfairly include the eradication of various honors and community service societies — we must drastically raise our standards for their behavior or remove them entirely.
And if Greek organizations can’t conform to these stricter — albeit basic — standards of behavior, we have an obligation to the welfare of our school to end them. If they can’t improve, they have no place at an institution of learning.
Neena primarily writes about politics and local issues for The Pitt News. Write to Neena at email@example.com.