Greek life is a big part of many student’s Penn State experience, with 17% of the student body involved in fraternities and sororities.
However, like many campuses across the country, Penn State’s Greek life has a major problem with hazing, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault. These problems have been out of hand for some time, but have reached a new level of depravity earlier this year.
On February 4th, 2017, Timothy Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State, died in the hospital from injuries he sustained at a Beta Theta Pi pledge event the night of February 2nd. Piazza suffered from irreparable brain injuries, a ruptured spleen, and a collapsed lung.
His frat brothers neglected to call for medical assistance until the next day, when it was already too late.
Beta Theta Pi has a history of alcohol abuse, and a terrifying knack for inhumane hazing rituals. Hazing included acts like burning the pledges with cigarettes, force feedings, branding, and making pledges drink until vomiting.
The fraternity was suspended for alcohol violations in 2009. When the boys of BTP came back, they had a set of strict new rules and a no alcohol policy that stated that anyone caught drinking would be expelled. Unfortunately, we now know, these policies were not followed.
After coming back from their suspension, Beta Theta Pi was held in high esteem at Penn State. They created a bright, shiny self-image, while they caused chaos behind the scenes. Even the University’s President, Eric Barron, said they were considered to be a model fraternity.
At the event earlier this year, Piazza and other pledges, were forced to drink unsafe amounts of liquor. They played a drinking game called the “gauntlet challenge,” which involved taking vodka shots, shotgunning beers, and “slapping the [wine] bag,” before being sent to the basement for multiple rounds of beer pong. Piazza was forced to drink so much that his blood alcohol content was 0.36, almost four times the legal limit in Pennsylvania.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Piazza fell 15 feet down the basement steps of the BTP house, and was carried, unconscious, to an upstairs couch by four of his fraternity brothers. This is the first point in the night when emergency medical services should have been called— in this moment his life could have been saved.
According to a NBC News article, Piazza’s father asked the doctor if Timothy had been brought to the hospital earlier, could he have survived. The doctor said yes.
Between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., video surveillance in the home captures Piazza falling and hitting his head three additional times. Footage also shows Piazza’s “brothers” attempting to rouse his unconscious body by slapping, shaking, and punching him, as well as dousing him with water. Others, simply stepped over him.
At 1 a.m., Piazza was twitching and vomiting. Several brothers filled a backpack with heavy books and put it on Tim’s back to keep him from rolling over and choking on his vomit. No one called for help.
These men called themselves his brothers. They made claims of devotion, trust, and camaraderie. But in the end, they acted entirely in self-interest and it cost Timothy Piazza his life.
The morning of February 3rd, the fraternity brothers finally checked on Tim, gray-skinned, half-conscious, and cold lying on the floor of the basement.
Almost 12 hours after Piazza’s initial fall, fraternity members finally called medical services. But first, brothers carried Timothy upstairs and tried to clean him up. Meaning that, 12 hours later, with someone they called a brother clearly in dire need of medical help, these men chose to be loyal to themselves.
When the Beta brothers finally called 911, they did not mention his falls, that he’d been asleep with a head injury, or that he’d been twitching and vomiting. Frat member Ryan McCann callously told a 911 dispatcher, “Ah, we have a friend who’s unconscious, he’s … hasn’t moved.”
Piazza’s father said no one from the fraternity or from Penn State went to the wake or the funeral.
On the night of the pledge event, none of Beta Theta Pi’s leadership stepped in to help Piazza. Furthermore, Tim’s pledgemaster, a Beta Theta leader – the “best” example – was caught on tape slapping Piazza’s face as he lay there unconscious.
PSU Greek life has a serious lack of proper leadership. Penn State’s former director of Greek life,
Roy Baker, resigned after being arrested for solicitation. The position is now being filled by an interim director, leaving Greek organizations without a consistent and proper role model.
The grand jury report in the Piazza criminal case found that a “permissive atmosphere fostered by the Pennsylvania State University Interfraternity Council” led to Piazza’s death. What an indictment of the University and the culture it fostered.
Timothy Piazza is not the first victim of Penn State’s vicious fraternities. James Vivenzio also tried to warn PSU administration about the dangerous happenings of frat row. Vivenzio tried to report the hazing he experienced anonymously in the fall of 2013 while he was still a pledge through the hotline provided by Penn State; the university told freshmen about the hotline during their orientation.
Vivenzio turned in proof of hazing and drug use and sexual misconduct linked to his frat, Kappa Delta Rho, including photos from the frat’s private Facebook page, which included naked pictures of unconscious women, with comments like; “For all freshmen who don’t know the background story I used to mercilessly f*** this chick when I was a freshman.” Another member wrote, “I banged her lol.”
Despite the extensive evidence, and Vivenzio’s repeated requests for help, Penn State’s administration kept a blind eye turned to the behavior of their Greek organizations. Penn State and their Greek life have shown reckless disregard to human life. The administration’s failure to properly handle previous hazing allegations created the environment that led to the death of Timothy Piazza.
Penn State has been warned time and time again about their Greek life’s dangerous behavior. The University has done far too little to address the problem and to protect its students. A “task force” was put into place in 2015 after James Vivenzio reported the cruel hazing he had experienced while rushing Kappa Delta Rho. The task force accomplished nothing.
James eventually filed formal charges against the University and Kappa Delta Rho. “Penn State recklessly and unconscionably sat on the information whistleblower Vivenzio had first brought [to] Penn State’s attention, causing further harm to Mr. Vivenzio and to untold numbers of students whose injuries and damages from hazing and sexual misconduct could have been prevented had Penn State acted quickly, responsibly and decisively,” the complaint, filed by our own Aaron J. Freiwald, said.
The University’s treatment of James’ and other previous allegations may have contributed to the lack of reporting on campus. When you demonize a victim and brand them as a snitch while ignoring their pleas for help, it doesn’t make more people want to come forward, and it doesn’t stop the harassment they are enduring.
Penn State has given these fraternities the impression that the rules don’t apply to them, and they certainly are not being held accountable. They commit heinous acts against their peers time and time again, escaping with nothing but a slap on the wrist, only to go right back to the same behaviors.
Penn State has done a disservice to the community by continuing to conceal and cover-up the behavior of their fraternities. For every story we hear about a Greek organization giving back, we hear countless more about assaults or abuse.
If fraternities and sororities would turn their attention from partying to the philanthropies they claim to dedicate themselves to, maybe we wouldn’t see so many of these atrocities. This is an opportunity for PSU Greek life to set a good example, and they need to work with university administration to create change that will be effective for the entire PSU community.
Service could be the cornerstone of long-lasting positive change in Greek life. If these organizations can focus on their communities and helping the people around them, it would give them a chance to channel their energy into a real cause, rather than hazing their pledges.
Greek life can be an encouraging, and motivating way to create friendships, and to get involved with the community as well as the campus life. Students involved in Greek life often achieve a higher GPA as well as other benefits. However, these advantages appear to be on the back burner to drinking and partying.
Banning Greek life in its entirety may be extreme, but in order for student to reap the benefits Greek life alleges to offer, major systematic changes need to be made. When asked about the changes they would prioritize, Piazza’s parents said that PSU needs to come down very hard on any situations where there’s hazing. Tim’s father, Jim, stressed the need to eliminate alcohol provided to minors.
As a result of extreme hazing at Kappa Delta Rho, James Vivenzio failed out of Penn State after his freshman year, entered rehabilitation and therapy programs for alcohol abuse, and was treated for post-traumatic stress. A school sanctioned organization that claims to feed scholastic excellence, Greek life has done the opposite for many of its victims.
In an open letter to the student body, Penn State’s President, Eric Barron, warned Greek life that it is time to shape up or ship out. Barron said, “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, then is there any hope?”
Timothy Piazza’s death was preventable. It should not have happened, and Penn State needs to ensure it does not happen again.