“Effective immediately, the Penn State Interfraternity Council and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims are suspending all social functions for IFC chapters associated with the University Park campus,” said the press release from Penn State.
“This suspension will continue while the university, the IFC and its chapters, relevant alumni and national fraternity organizations, the Panhellenic Council and the Borough of State College determine significant changes in social policies and practices for these groups. Recent events, including a tragic student death associated with activities in a fraternity house, as well as growing allegations of misconduct in these organizations, including hazing and sexual assault, compel this joint action,” it said.
That recent tragedy is the Saturday death of Timothy Piazza, a new pledge at Beta Theta Pi who suffered a fall on Thursday night at the North Burrowes Street house. Police were not called until 10:49 a.m. Friday.
Beta Theta Pi’s activities had already been suspended by both the university and its national organization.
“Social functions are defined by the IFC as any activity sponsored by a chapter or its members, on or off chapter property, where alcohol is present, regardless the source, including third-party vendors. The moratorium on these functions will be enforced by the Interfraternity Council and Student Affairs, which will be given access to public areas in chapter houses for spot visits conducted by IFC leaders and Student Affairs staff. Violation of these expectations will result in further disciplinary action and may subject a chapter to loss of university recognition,” Penn State said.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers confirmed that the order does not extend to the annual IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, scheduled for next weekend. However, Beta Theta Pi, which is under a total cease-and-desist order, is prohibited from participation in Thon.
According to the university, the move comes after Sims met with fraternity chapter presidents Tuesday to talk about “meaningful change in their organizations.”
The fraternities exist in a kind of limbo on campus. They are private organizations but operate due to their association with the state-related university.
“They are neither owned, nor operated by Penn State, and their success and sustainability require collective and positive action by undergraduate actives, alumni, national chapters, the university and the borough,” the university release said. “The self-governing nature of these groups requires their participation to effect any change in their policies and practices. Sims told the chapter presidents that they must work together with the university and others to achieve better outcomes that are required to ensure a healthy, productive and sustainable fraternity and sorority system at Penn State.”
While Sims said that changes “must be achieved soon,” and that the lockdown on activities will remain in place until that time, it is not the first time the issue has been addressed in recent years.
In February 2016, the university announced that a task force on Greek life had been assembled and been meeting bi-weekly for four months.
That task force was announced in September 2015 after the March 2015 revelations that Penn State fraternity Kappa Delta Rho was being investigated for a secret Facebook page detailing hazing and possible criminal activity.
“An aggressive timeline is being established to finalize plans and adopt recommendations for change. The Penn State fraternity and sorority community is a rich source of leadership opportunity, charitable activity, community service, networking and social experience. The university and its fraternity leaders are taking actions to improve the experience for all Penn State students and to ensure the sustainability of these important organizations,” the university release said.