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Safety & Discipline

Penn State calls for action as anniversary of frat pledge's death nears

Debra Erdley
| Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 9:45 a.m.
Penn State University President Eric J. Barron
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Penn State University President Eric J. Barron

As the first anniversary of the death of a Penn State student in an alcohol-fueled fraternity ritual approaches, President Eric J. Barron called for new state and federal laws and cooperation from national Greek life organizations to end such practices.

Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old student from New Jersey, died Feb. 4 following the incident when he fell down a flight of steps at the former Beta Theta Pi house and fraternity brothers waited 12 hours to call for help. Several former fraternity brothers face criminal charges in the incident.

Barron said state and federal authorities must establish stricter penalties for hazing and that he will broach cooperative action to end such practices at all colleges at a national gathering of university presidents, provosts and student affairs leaders on April 23 and 24.

His call to action follows an incident last month when a student was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning following an off-campus recruitment event for the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Pitt chapter of Sigma Chi, which faced sanctions from both the university and its national leaders following the incident, was the fourth chapter of the fraternity to face sanctions in three months.

Barron said PSU has made progress with new policies designed to tamp down drinking and hazing in the Greek life community. But he said problems remain.

“In addition to the permanent Beta Theta Pi ban, a total of 13 other Greek organizations at Penn State have received multi-year suspensions for safety violations. While these consequences demonstrate that we mean business, the large number of suspended chapters also shows that many students have ignored the call for behavior change and fallen short of our values and expectations,” Barron said.

Although national Greek life organizations have instituted a host of policies designed to eliminate dangerous practices, Barron chided several of them for not acting quickly when local chapters were cited.

“National Greek organizations absolutely must assume leadership responsibility. Three chapters that lost University recognition — Alpha Chi Rho, Alpha Sigma Phi and Sigma Alpha Mu — did not receive chapter suspensions from their national offices. That is unacceptable,” he said.

“We must set a national example for reform,” Barron said.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996, derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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