Penn State Fraternities, Sororities Put on Notice by School President

Penn State has implemented more aggressive measures to combat drinking, hazing and sexual assault in Greek organizations.

If fraternities and sororities at Penn State don’t shape up, they could disappear from the campus community. That’s the warning Penn State President Dr. Eric Barron gave in his April 10 open letter to the school’s student body.

With 17 percent of Penn State students involved in a fraternity or sorority, Barron used the letter to admonish the pervasive bad behavior in these organizations, including high-risk drinking, drug use, hazing and sexual assault. Barron says the behavior even happened at one of the school’s model fraternities, Beta Theta Pi. In February, 19-year-old Timothy Piazza died after falling down the fraternity’s stairs. The sophomore had partied the night before at the Beta Theta Pi house, reports CBS News.

“The brothers had a ‘no alcohol’ policy, which stated that anyone caught drinking would be expelled from the fraternity,” Barron says in his letter. “There was live-in oversight as contracted through an external agreement with the national organization. The owner of the house wired it for video surveillance. There were no outward signs of large parties, which are frequently the bane of community members. All indicators suggested a ‘model’ fraternity. Yet, a death occurred because a student was forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol in a hazing ritual.”

RELATED: Putting an End to Hazing Deaths

Penn State put significant restrictions on Greek life parties earlier this year. It banned kegs and hard liquor at parties and conducted unannounced compliance checks.

Additionally, the school requires first-year students to complete online alcohol and sexual assault education programs. Every first-year student also receives three communication pieces from University Health Services at all alcohol education workshops. Fraternities and sororities must also participate in educational programs on alcohol, sexual assault, and hazing. Students who have violated laws or policies related to underage drinking, public drunkenness, excessive consumption, or driving under the influence, either on or off campus, are required to attend two private sessions with trained alcohol counselors in our BASICS program and hold them accountable through the University’s conduct process.

Despite Penn State’s efforts, sexual assault and excessive drinking continues to be an issue for the campus community. As a result, the school has implemented more aggressive measures, including:

  • Formal recruitment of new fraternity and sorority members, also known as rush, will be deferred one semester so that only students who have completed 14 credit hours may participate. No new freshmen at Penn State will be able to rush next fall. In consultation with various constituents within the Penn State Greek-letter community and their national organizations, other requirements and the possibility of deferring rush until a student’s sophomore year will be considered for 2018-19. Further discussion about the size of new membership classes within these organizations will be part of an ongoing review.
  • New social restrictions will include a strongly enforced prohibition against underage possession or consumption of alcohol in chapter houses and activities. Service of alcohol at social events must follow Pennsylvania law (e.g. limited to those 21 years of age or older), and must be distributed by RAMP trained servers only, though third party, licensed RAMP certified servers are preferred. Only beer and wine may be served, and kegs will not be permitted.
  • Attendance at social events will be limited to the legal capacity of the chapter house. No day-long events will be allowed, and no more than 10 socials with alcohol per semester will be permitted for each chapter, a reduction from the current limit of 45, which was established by Penn State’s Interfraternity Council.
  • Failure by the Greek-letter organizations to effectively prevent underage consumption and excessive drinking in their facilities and activities may lead the University to adopt further restrictions, including the possibility of declaring that the system must be completely dry.
  • These social restrictions will be enforced by a new monitoring protocol that will use both third parties and a combination of student leadership and University staff. When discovered, any violations of these expectations will result in appropriate and significant disciplinary action.
  • There will be no tolerance for hazing in these organizations, as all hazing is a violation of Pennsylvania law. Hazing that involves alcohol or serious physical abuse will likely lead to loss of University recognition. Increased educational programming focused on preventing hazing will be mandatory for all chapter members.

Read the letter.

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About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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