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Schools Are Increasingly Restricting Greek Life as Penn State Faces More Scrutiny About Its Behavior Toward Frats

In wake of recent, increasing incidents such as the February 2017 death of Penn State fraternity member Timothy Piazza, college fraternities nationwide have cracked down on trying to prevent accidents provoked by Greek life traditions. The New York Times says events such as frat parties and initiations have been suspended or restricted at both large universities (University of Michigan and Ohio State, for instance) and schools where deaths have recently occurred (such as Florida StatePenn State and three others). Well-behaved frats and sororities at some of these involved schools have recently been allowed to throw a single supervised party each semester. 

Frequent hazing incidents have contributed to the planning of a Big Ten conference this April that will address how to control campus Greek life. The Penn State president, Eric J. Barron, is reportedly leading the movement behind the conference, likely as a result of the grand jury report responding to Piazza’s hazing-related death, which led to 18 members of the now banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity receiving criminal charges. 

The report, which was released on Dec. 15, reads that Penn State officials showed “a shocking apathy” to the potentially fatal threats that binge drinking leads to. “Since the university has mentioned control over employees directly responsible for overseeing the participation of students in fraternity houses, the university bears the ultimate responsibility for the failure to supervise the safety of its students involved in the fraternity system,” the jury wrote. 

According to ABC6, the report refers to the school administration seeming apathetic to concerns as far back as 2009, while Penn State has claimed in a 70-page response that its attempts to help fraternities were restricted by current and past frat members’ “unwillingness” to “challenge behavior that has been accepted for years across the nation.” The school also cited parents supplying fraternity students with alcohol as contributors to the problem. 

“They know that they knew a great of [the abuse of drinking], and that they should know the rest,” said Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller about Penn State officials. “If they didn’t know, it was a deliberate, like, ‘don’t want to know.'”

The jury report also included suggested guidelines on how Penn State can improve the safety of those who participate in Greek life.

While Penn State may remain a difficult subject in this national conversation, other schools, such as Michigan, have witnessed student-run fraternity boards setting restrictions into place. The North-American Interfraternity Conference has also created a potential program that would only allow alcohol in frat houses’ common areas, unless the house was throwing a registered party with a licensed vendor present. 

The Times points out that deciding what’s best for fraternity members in this society involves finding a delicate balance. While the major pros of fraternities include finding a sense of brotherhood and community in college, schools must be careful not to limit their students’ freedom of speech when it comes to restricting Greek life activities. Few schools have actually taken measures to completely remove Greek life from campuses. Some fraternity leaders, such as the University of Iowa’s Heath Schintler, believe that the solution lies in shifting the common belief that drinking is always a sign of rebellion, 

“We may be seeing the slow attrition on the way to the end of Greek life, or we may see that by being forceful and aggressive, we will start to promote the behavior that is expected from a group of young men and young women who claim to be leaders in society,” Barron said. 

Kristen Perrone is a Siena College Class of 2018 alumna. She studied English during her time at Siena.