Penn State issues sweeping reforms to Greek life following the death of a student during 'Gauntlet' hazing ritual

Penn State students on campusFacebook/PSUCareerServicesThe changes were a direct response to the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore who died after a hazing ritual in February.

The Penn State Board of Trustees passed sweeping reforms to fraternity and sorority culture at an off-cycle meeting on Friday.

The changes were a direct response to the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore who died after a hazing ritual in February.

“I am resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our entire community into decisive action and reform, concentrating on the safety and well-being of students at Penn State,” President Eric Barron said, according to a statement from the school.

Citing the self-governance model of Greek life as failing to address pervasive issues of excessive drinking, hazing and sexual assault, Penn State described the new policies as “an unprecedented transfer of responsibility to the University for disciplinary matters.”

The changes include:

  • University — rather than Greek organisation — control over misconduct and adjudication process
  • Hazing that involves alcohol or physical or mental abuse will result in swift permanent revocation of recognition for the chapter involved
  • Monitoring of social events by University staff members
  • A social and behavioural contract signed by students
  • Report cards with information about every Greek organisation on campus
  • Organisations will be charged an additional fee to fund increased police services and monitors

Piazza’s death rocked Penn State’s Greek life and magnified the dangers of drinking culture and hazing on campus. His final hours began at about 9 p.m. on February 2, when he showed up to Beta Theta Pi for a pledge event called “The Gauntlet,” an event at which pledges drank at a series of alcohol stations and consumed four to five drinks in as little two minutes. Fourteen hours later, he was rushed to the hospital. He died the next day.

Eighteen members of Beta Theta Pi, as well as the fraternity corporation, had charges brought against them in May in connection with his death. Eight of the 18, along with the corporation, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The other charges, totaling more than 1,000, include aggravated assault, tampering with evidence, hazing, and providing alcohol to minors.

The events leading up to Piazza’s death came into clearer focus since the charges were filed. A surveillance camera in Beta Theta Pi’s house captured most of the events of February 2, and a grand-jury presentment provided a minute-by-minute account of “The Gauntlet” and the hours before Piazza’s death.

Penn State’s president, Eric Barron, released a statement in May calling the details in the presentment “heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.” He added that “the university community continues to mourn his tragic death.”

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