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Pledging Continues At Penn State Fraternities

Beta Theta Pi fraternity building
Emily Reddy

Rush. It’s that time of year when students looking to join a fraternity or sorority go through pledging events that are part of Greek life on college campuses.

At Penn State, the administration is tightening the controls on pledging and how it will be monitored, after student Timothy Piazza died in February at Beta Theta Pi’s bid acceptance night. President Eric Barron spoke about those changes and the university’s response to fraternity hazing and drinking earlier this year.

“We have announced the imposition of a number of aggressive measures and made clear that recognition by the university is at stake for those Greek letter organizations that do not abide by the rules,” Barron said.

Among the measures the university outlined in March is that fraternities and sororities would not have formal recruitment this fall. Instead, that would be postponed until spring. At the time, media reported that as meaning there would be no rush this semester. But there was.

It was on a smaller scale than in years past or what is expected to happen this coming spring. But recruitment did go on.

Evan Ditty, assistant director for training and development in Penn State’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, explained it this way: “The wording there of formal recruitment is kind of what is important. So the formal process typically is the one with the largest amount of students, so while it did say that the formal recruitment process is being deferred from fall to spring, I don’t think it specifically stated that there would be no recruitment in fall.”

What the university announced in March is that this school year, formal recruitment would be deferred from fall to spring. But, it turns out that for the Interfraternity Council, a student governing body for fraternities at Penn State, there is no difference between formal and informal recruitment.

Ditty pointed out that in the past, close to 3,000 students might have been involved in a typical fall rush, compared with 300 to 400 this fall.

That drop is because of another change in rules: students need to have earned 14 credits and have a 2.5 grade point average to participate. The credit requirement means freshmen can’t qualify until the spring.

Shakil Rabbi, a post-doctorate in the English Department, supported the idea of not having rush at all this fall.

“The fact that they are still doing it is shortsighted," Rabbi said. "Taking a little moment to reorganize themselves, to prepare for how to deal with this, and to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the future – It would have been better if they took the time off.”

The sororities’ governing body, Penn State Panhellenic Council, does have both formal and informal recruiting. It will hold its formal recruitment in the spring, so most sororities didn’t rush at all this fall.

That left some sorority members, like Stephanie Uliks, angry since they weren’t involved in what happened to Piazza.

“All the houses have their banners up, and they’re having their quote, unquote parties," Uliks said. "As far as we can tell, that’s their — as formal rush as we know. But, it’s just different, because we can’t even do anything of the sort whether it’s formal or informal.”

Samantha White, a sophomore majoring in public relations, is not involved in Greek Life but has friends who are. She said it seems like fraternity pledging mostly held off until spring, but she saw signs it was happening.

“I think they’re being a lot more quiet about it and a lot more secretive about it than they would be normally.”

Other Penn State rule changes include no more than 10 social events with alcohol a semester and a moratorium on alcohol at social events until chapters complete alcohol education programs.

The university is in the process of filling new positions to monitor Greek life social events. It wants to have those filled before spring activities start.

Another step the university has taken is offering a “score card” on fraternities and sororities. It gives a snapshot on Greek chapters, including alcohol and hazing violations and chapter suspensions. So far, the score card offers information on Spring 2017.

This fall, one fraternity has received an interim suspension for possible rules violations. Another that had been on probation is facing charges of furnishing liquor to minors.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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