This op-ed originally appeared in the Washington Post on May 31, 2018
National action needed for sustained change in fraternity and sorority life
By Eric Barron and Jim Piazza
Eric Barron is the president of Pennsylvania State University. Jim Piazza is the father of Timothy Piazza.
One more name connected to one more hazing tragedy is one too many. There must be an end to the senseless deaths occurring in fraternities across America.
The memory of Timothy Piazza — and far too many others — deserves nothing less. And that’s why we’re calling for the creation of a national database to put a spotlight on what’s really happening inside many Greek-letter organizations.
Last month, leaders from Pennsylvania State University and more than 30 other institutions met to discuss how to address dangerous behaviors in fraternity and sorority life. One point was abundantly clear from the dialogue: With no national clearinghouse, we are missing a comprehensive understanding.
However, momentum is starting to grow among university leaders across America to join forces in a concerted effort to create a national database that we hope will encourage these organizations to fulfill their own stated ideals, improve safety and spark needed cultural changes.
As the president of a large, public university, we instituted a Greek-life scorecard at Penn State, designed to help students and families make informed decisions about which organizations may offer a positive benefit for students.
Our scorecard shares a diverse set of information both positive and negative. The scorecard charts educational outcomes, records of negative behavior such as noise complaints and violations of the law, as well as areas of positive contribution, for example through leadership or philanthropy.
Importantly, the Penn State scorecard can also provide an early warning system if behavior starts to slip over a period of years.
A national scorecard is a needed tool to house critical information on fraternity and sorority life. A national scorecard would demonstrate whether national Greek organizations are providing the leadership to help universities stop dangerous behaviors in local chapters.
Organizations that resist revoking a charter after a university removes recognition for drinking or hazing would stand out, enabling university administrators to consider collective action. This would allow universities to see where issues persist and factor into decisions such as loss of recognition or disciplinary actions for violations.
Most importantly, it may surface a cumulative look at issues any one fraternity or sorority may be experiencing nationwide, such as “traditional” unspoken hazing practices or dangerous abuses of alcohol.
The scorecard serves as a means to hold fraternity and sorority organizations publicly accountable and place necessary pressure to make institutional changes — across all of their member chapters on campuses across the nation.
There are no easy solutions to a problem that has persisted in secrecy on campuses nationwide, but university leaders have a chance to collectively instill improved and necessary outcomes by working together.
With no singular source, no national database, to secure an objective look at how organizations are performing, we have a substantial void for university leaders to evaluate these organizations.
But it isn’t just our universities, the parents of our students feel this is a critical step to take together.
As the father of a trusting, kind and caring young college student whose life was taken in February 2017 at the hands of his soon-to-be Beta Theta Pi fraternity “brothers,” I wholeheartedly agree that there must be more transparency regarding behavioral issues at Greek organizations.
The year 2017 was a defining period for the state of Greek life in the United States and it has caught the attention of people across the country. We must act.
Parents are much more astute about wanting to understand what organizations their children are joining. A national scorecard will be a useful and informative tool for families and will hopefully result in a change in behavior at the more troubled Greek organizations.
I applaud the university presidents that are already supportive of the scorecard and encourage other presidents and national Greek organizations to join in.
The scorecard alone will not effect a change in behavior though. Universities need to redefine their relationship with Greek life and must take on greater oversight. National Greek organizations must put in place firm and strict rules and guidelines and then enforce them. They must also work with the universities in ensuring safety of students.
Finally, our legal system plays a very critical role in reform.
Every state should have meaningful anti-hazing laws. We are hopeful the Pennsylvania law will soon be enacted and that it can be a model for other states to adopt. This will be a deterrent to misconduct and will be another tool in university administrations’ toolboxes.
Without a coordinated effort, I expect we will continue to see the dangerous behaviors that led to Tim’s death.
No parents should send a child off to college with great excitement and aspirations and then receive the phone call that your child is dead or severely injured as a result of trying to join an organization.
United action is needed
Together, we believe now is the time for culture change among these organizations that is so profoundly needed across the country. And we, the community — from university administrators to parents to the national organizations, must galvanize together and set the expectations of what will and will not be tolerated.
A national database would be a mechanism for universities to collectively communicate shared standards and expectations for organizations wishing to remain in our communities and recruit our students.
It is our hope that Greek-letter organizations and university leaders across the country will join us in this mission to establish a national database that can start to address our concerns for the well-being and safety of students.