In February, Timothy Piazza, a student at Pennsylvania State University, died after excessive drinking and suffering from a head injury. His death occurred after a Beta Theta Pi fraternity acceptance night for pledges. That night, new members had to do “the gauntlet” challenge, where the goal is to have four-to-five drinks in a two minute span. They chugged vodka, drank wine bags, and shotgunned beers. After “the gauntlet”, Beta threw a party and had pledges drink even more.
Then, Piazza fell down a flight of stairs and hit his head on a metal railing, which caused a fracture at the base of his skull and a ruptured spleen. No one called the ambulance until the next morning when it was too late. His death could been prevented if fraternity members had called paramedics after Piazza’s fatal injury when some noticed how “deathly pale” he was.
This is truly a tragedy for parents and loved ones who have to bury Piazza. After this disaster, how can we avoid something like this from happening at our schools? What values are college campuses and organizations instilling into members that lead to a fatal party?
Beta’s spring 2017 pledge manual prohibits alcohol consumption, abuse, and hazing at fraternity-related events. Clearly, banning these destructive activities is not sufficient because deaths and injuries still occur.
Most importantly, attitudes towards drinking and hazing need to drastically change. Many organizations have turned a blind eye to alcohol abuse and hazing; several teach that these actions are not allowed, yet they still happen. Modules that university and fraternity councils hold can help educate Greek members about safe drinking and partying, but these are not effective unless people actually take them seriously. Greek organizations need to teach pledges that they are valuable instead of worthless, and they should stop the pressure that forces new members to hurt themselves in order to fit into the community. This attitude starts with each individual member and can grow to encompass the whole chapter.
If fraternities continue to abuse members, then they essentially deny the value of human life. In Piazza’s situation, some members thought that they should have called 911, but others said not to do so. Because Penn’s Beta failed to call paramedics when Piazza needed them to the most, they failed to value Piazza’s life over their own fear, shame, and ignorance.
All organization members are responsible to take action if they see hazing occur, especially if they see someone who needs help. If one ignores what is going on and encourages reckless, degrading behavior, then everyone involved is put into danger, not just pledges facing initiation. After all, the choice to do or say something means the difference between life or death.
It is hypocritical for members to pledge and commit to both one another and the community while they endanger each other. College organizations need to critically evaluate what brotherhood and sisterhood mean to them and actually adhere to their purpose of supporting each other and building up every member to their full potential.