Monday, June 19, 2017

PSU Hazing Death Backlash

So Penn State has imposed new rules for Fraternities and Sororities.

New measures include:

-University control of the fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and adjudication process.
-Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved.
-Transition to deferred recruitment/rush process for fraternities and sororities.
-Strict social restrictions.
-Monitoring of social events by University staff members.
-Relationship statement signed by all fraternity and sorority members that clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the University, the chapters and their respective members.
-Further parent education: availability of report card, messages to reinforce with their students.
-Capitation fee for support of extra services, spot-checkers/monitors, and educational activities.

The Penn State Panhellenic Council sent a letter in reply.  (read that HERE)  They are of the opinion that they are being unfairly targeted, as they had nothing to do with any of the recent controversies.  They have a point.

As I have written many times in this blog, I was a brother in a Fraternity in college.  I joined Phi Kappa Sigma (Skull) while at Drexel in May 1985.  When I transferred to PSU, my membership transferred with me.  I even wrote a book about my college days, which is yet unpublished (I have posted some chapters in this blog from time to time.)

Fraternity Anniversary, November 2015

I've been thinking a LOT about the fraternity sanctions since I read them.  I wanted to think them through before posting my opinion.

My fraternity at PSU got physical with the pledges.  No doubt.  It was hazing.  Lots of pushups, etc.  And we played drinking games WITH them.  If they were drinking, we were drinking.  And they were never asked to do something that the classes before hadn't done.  That said, each class seemed to... increase the intensity.  Like their memories of what they endured warped, or that they remembered it being far worse than it was.  As "House Paramedic" (and I was) if a pledge got hurt, I would evaluate, treat, and if needed, the pledge would get further care.  The worst we ever had in my time was a broken rib.  Our chapter re-chartered about ten years ago.  Everything has changed.  Stupid hazing is a thing of the past (it better be- I helped re-write the pledge program.)  And the chapter is better for it.

Me bartending at a fraternity event, 1987

Fast forward to this year.  A Penn State student is dead.  The kids who allowed this to happen refused to help him- refused to help someone they said they WANTED to be their BROTHER.  And when people tried to help, they were threatened.

The fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, has been "permanently banned."  Charges have been filed.  A grand jury says that Piazza died from "the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct."  Pearls have been clutched.  Old white guys have harrumphed.

Call me a cynic- but Beta was a rich boy house.  Families with a LOT of money.  Rich and Powerful alumni.  I really wonder how long "permanent" will be.  Five years?  Ten?  Does Beta own the house and grounds?  If so, what then?  Will judges,etc, be bought?  After all, this is Trump's America, where Money talks louder than ever.

Beta (image: Google maps)

Will the Piazzas EVER have justice for the death of their son?

I hope so.  Desperately.


These rich kids not only let the kid die, but prevented anyone from helping him.  And why didn't someone simply take that cellphone they ALWAYS carry, walk outside, and call 911?  Oh right, they'd been drinking, and that kid would be all right.  After all, he's not just a Man... he's Beta material!

And, they are all young and Invincible.  Death is for lesser beings.

So.  This is all territory I've gone over before.

The University has placed these new sanctions.  TKE has said they are closing for the 17/18 year because their brothers keep destroying the house among other things.  (I wasn't aware they were back after that drunk driving death in the 90s.)

The tragic and avoidable death of Timothy Piazza has forced the University's hand.  What do I think as a Greek alum?

What would I thought then?

Then?  That it was over-reach.  But I would've been outraged that fellow Greeks allowed such a thing to happen.  That said... I was only 19-22 then.  Now, I'm 50.

I loved being in a fraternity.  I made friends with whom I still keep in contact after 30 years.  Some of whom I consider my dearest friends.  A couple of my brothers were my biggest supporters when I transitioned back in 2014.

The Fraternity brothers (hereafter Bros) across the PSU Greek system has had many opportunities over the years to police themselves.  I was on the IFC Community Relations committee in 1988, so I saw this first hand.  During my years, we had several houses busted for underage drinking, several Bros arrested for selling drugs, and one house condemned because it was falling apart.  We had one death due to drinking- a Pink Elephant brother fell off the roof of his house after a night of partying. Number of rapes and sexual assaults I couldn't find statistics.  Anyone care to help?

In the almost thirty years since I've graduated, there have been multiple deaths, fires, hazing incidents, underage drinking citations, and I won't even count the suicides.

Timothy Piazza, Rest in Peace

Hell, even AFTER stricter measures were in place, SAM violated almost every single one of them.  They were suspended but when I visited campus, days after that happened.  I saw MANY bros wearing SAM gear.

Obviously, something has gone wrong- either in the system, in the parenting, in society, or any combination of those.  As the University is ultimately responsible for the safety of its students, they MUST act.  And so they have.

Do I LIKE what the University is doing?  No.  But I don't see any other alternative aside from disbanding the entire Greek system.  If bros in even ONE house are sociopaths (and I contend Beta was) that's too many.  But according to the stories, the police reports, and statistics, Beta WASN'T an outlier- not for Bros.  Maybe not even for that entire generation.  Am I painting with too broad a brush?  A boy is DEAD.  You tell me.  Please, I beg you, please prove me wrong.  Yes, PSU has Thon.  But what is done every other weekend of the school year?

Penn State has acted.  The Bros know what they need to do.  If they care ONE bit about the letters they wear, the University they attend, and the Brothers they supposedly care for, they will do it.

My letters meant a LOT to me in my Penn State days.  They still do.  I am PROUD to be a Penn State Alumni, and a member of Phi Kappa Sigma.  I will be both until the day I die.

Be well.


  1. Sophie -

    The way I feel, the only way for colleges to prevent this from happening in the future is to eliminate the Greek system that infects the schools. There are good fraternities and sororities. But one bad house contaminates everyone. If any are supported, the bad eggs will take over a good house and repeat the problem cycle. I can't think of a way to preserve the good houses and ban the bad ones. Laws protecting freedom of association make this impossible. So we may have to get rid of all the houses to prevent future problems....

    I'm glad you have good memories. I fear what will happen when the next hazing incident occurs.


  2. "After all, this is Trump's America, where Money talks louder than ever." M, while I enjoyed your insight, I found this passage to be unrelated and trite. Guess what? Money has ALWAYS talked, not more so now than ever. Other than that, I appreciated your take. Thanks