The first letter came on Wednesday.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza addressed it to other moms and dads as they approach the end of the hardest year of their life, the anniversary of their son’s death. Tim Piazza, a 19-year-old Penn State sophomore, died after attending a pledge party at the now banned and criminally charged Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
“One year ago today, on February 2, 2017, our son Tim was excited and anxious to begin his initiation.... Of the three fraternity bids he received, he accepted Beta Theta Pi. They were self-described as an alcohol-free, hazing-free fraternity and allegedly placed a high emphasis on academics. He felt like they shared his values,” the Piazzas wrote.
A day later, an ambulance was called, 12 hours after Tim sustained injuries in a fall at the party. Another day and he was gone.
“He just wanted to join an organization. How could this happen?” the New Jersey couple wrote.
They cautioned parents about fraternities and sororities. They urged them to talk to their kids and learn and explain the “darker side” of the culture.
And they talked about Penn State.
“Tim’s death was a slow, painful passing that was graphically captured on videotape by the fraternity’s unmonitored security system. To this day we have not watched the videotapes when they have been played in the preliminary hearing court proceedings, but we have urged Penn State officials, including the President and his Board of Trustees, to do so (that has yet to happen),” they wrote.
President Eric Barron put out his own letter to the university community within hours. It detailed the changes the university has made in the past year, not just with suspending and then banning Beta Theta Pi from Penn State but broader changes to the way Greek life is handled.
“The university continues to mourn his tragic passing. In the immediate aftermath, it became clear wholesale changes were needed to create a sustainable Greek system. We resolved to turn the pain and anguish radiating through our community into decisive reform,” he wrote.
The changes included drastic cuts in the number of socials (parties with alcohol) the organizations can host, how and when recruitment happens and more enforcement, including a number of suspensions of other frats that happened after Piazza’s death.
“These measures are making a difference,” Barron wrote. “I am encouraged that we have received letters from our local community about improved chapter behavior in State College. Local law enforcement and others report reduced crowd sizes at fraternity gatherings. Fraternity and sorority leaders are working more closely with the university to implement the new safety programs. This is important progress.”
He noted more progress was needed, though, and called on students, parents, alumni and national Greek organizations to participate in change.
“We also continue to work with Pennsylvania and federal legislators toward stricter hazing penalties. In short, we will not rest in our efforts, with the hope that this kind of tragedy never occurs again,” Barron said. “Much remains to be done, and the memory of Timothy Piazza deserves nothing less than our collective action.”
Jim and Evelyn Piazza have been critical of the university response during the past year, but have also been vocal, speaking out about the dangers of hazing and keeping their son’s case in the public eye. They remain committed to change, and reminded other parents of that in their letter.
“It is too late for Tim, but it is not too late for your son or daughter,” they wrote.