Penn State Students On The Future Of Greek Life

Jun 20, 2017

Beta Theta Pi fraternity building.
Credit Emily Reddy / WPSU

It’s new student orientation time, and incoming freshmen roam the HUB-Robeson student center at Penn State University Park. They’ve been following the Timothy Piazza case, and most of them say it’s made joining a fraternity less appealing.

“I feel like the fraternities here are maybe a little bit too wild,” said incoming Penn State  freshman Dan Zhang. “I may have wanted to join a fraternity, but now, I kind of want to wait a couple years, see how things go.”

Incoming freshmen are just a couple of years younger than Timothy Piazza, who was 19 when he died in February. He was a pledge for the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and died after falling down the stairs at the fraternity house. Piazza was heavily intoxicated following a hazing ritual known as "the gauntlet."

“That’s something that kind of comes with the territory of fraternities,” incoming freshman Matt Blumenthal said.  

Blumenthal, whose father and sister were both involved in Greek life at Penn State, said he doubts Piazza’s death will end hazing. Although he thinks the Piazza case is tragic, he doesn’t think it should put all of Greek Life in a negative light.

He still plans on rushing a fraternity if the option is still available to him.

“There are plenty of really, really good things about Greek life that my sister and my dad and my whole family always try to remind me about,” Blumenthal said. “I think you have to sort of take it with a grain of salt, but at the same time, it’s a very unfortunate thing that happened.”

Anthony Rizzo, an incoming freshman who isn’t planning on rushing, said Piazza’s death hasn’t changed his perception of the Greek system.

“I just think, unfortunately, people went too far,” Rizzo said. “I’m sure it’s the same at every campus. It’s just people having fun, and they had a little too much fun and they weren’t careful and safe and it was not good.”

Skylar Thomas Radka, another incoming freshman attending new student orientation, thinks changes are necessary, but that it isn’t up to the university to make those changes.

“Really, it’s up to the students I think, if they want to do the change,” Radka said. “Because precautions can be made, different steps can be taken, but it’s really up to the students of the campus, not the campus itself.”

Penn State President Eric Barron released a letter on Friday outlining five crucial action items the university will take in order to replace the current Greek self-governance model.

“With the safety of our students as our number one priority, we are proposing that Penn State take control of Greek Life by taking control of monitoring and adjudication by delaying rush and pledging, having zero tolerance for hazing and excessive drinking, and by placing strict restrictions on social events,” Barron said.

Penn State senior Marisa Kang thinks deferring rush is a particularly good idea. She was in a sorority during her first two years of college at Penn State Harrisburg. Kang thinks students should be required to wait until sophomore year to rush.

“When you’re a freshman in college, you don’t really think about how this could affect everything else — your grades, your family life and everything,” Kang said. “But when you’re a little older, you have your first year under your belt, you kind of know how things are going to go.”

Penn State sophomore Cory Steinle has several friends who talk highly of their fraternities. He’s considering rushing at some point next year. Steinle hasn’t been deterred by the recent events, but believes there are flaws in the system to be fixed.

“I think Greek life leaders are ready to step up,” Steinle said. “I think the Greek life community is ready to step up and make positive changes for the future. Because, otherwise, there might not be a future for Greek life at Penn State.”

The preliminary hearing for the Commonwealth’s case against 18 members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity began on June 12 in Bellefonte, and is scheduled to continue on July 10.