Penn State

How prevalent is hazing at Penn State? University releases initial report

Penn State University reported 31 hazing violations between 2013 and 2018 at the university’s 24 campuses throughout the state — most of which occurred at University Park.

The university’s Office of Ethics and Compliance published the report Tuesday as required by the recently-enacted Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing law. Secondary schools and higher education institutions are required to publish reports biannually on Jan. 1 and Aug. 1.

All but three of the 31 events involved fraternities or sororities. The exceptions were the Shades of Blue a cappella group in 2015, the Penn State Altoona women’s soccer team in 2015 and a high school sports camp in 2016.

Twelve violations from 12 different Greek organizations were reported at University Park after Piazza’s death in February 2017. Five of those violations involved alcohol.

What happened to those with violations?

The report also outlined the sanctions the university levied against several former Beta Theta Pi brothers who participated in the bid acceptance night that led to Piazza’s death. Five students were indefinitely expelled, six received a suspension ranging from one to three semesters, two were placed on probation and 21 students took a “conduct withdrawal” from the university.

Three others were also sanctioned for unrelated incidents after the investigation. Two were indefinitely expelled and the other received a two-semester suspension.

The University of Pittsburgh, which has about 18,000 fewer students, reported 19 hazing violations during the same period.

Lisa Powers, Penn State’s senior director of news and media relations, said the university investigates all allegations of hazing and disciplinary sanctions may include separation from the university or disaffiliation from the organization or team.

“Student safety remains a top priority at Penn State and the university follows a no-tolerance policy on hazing,” Powers said. “Penn State leaders were early advocates for changes to the law and are pleased that the Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing law was signed into Pennsylvania law in October.”

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, who introduced the legislation in March, said the law was specifically designed to be comprehensive and address various facets of hazing.

“The reporting component of the law provides students with the tools they need to make informed choices about the groups they consider joining and colleges they plan to attend,” Corman said. “Parents can also use this as a resource to talk with their children about the decisions they are making while adding an additional layer of accountability to the schools and other organizations.”

Penn State president addresses Greek life reforms

On the same day the report was released, Penn State President Eric Barron wrote a blog post on the university’s ongoing reform efforts for Greek life. After the Piazza tragedy, he wrote, the university considered “walking away from Greek-life altogether.”

“It was clear the existing model of Greek self-governance here and at universities across the country was broken,” Barron wrote in the post. “We considered withdrawing university recognition of Greek-letter organizations and walking away from Greek-life altogether. But we believed that Greek organizations operating without university oversight would make our community less safe. We also believed, that through concerted effort, we could both recapture many of the positive ideals of Greek life and minimize risky behaviors.”

Penn State President Eric Barron shakes hands with Evelyn Piazza in March after the anti-hazing legislation named after her late son, Timothy Piazza, was introduced outside of the Centre County Courthouse. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

For the first full academic year since Greek reforms were put into place, Barron said Highlands neighborhood crime reports were down 20 percent and total cases at fraternities were down about 30 percent.

He also said the university reached out to parents to warn them about students joining two “rogue chapters” — Sigma Alpha Mu and Alpha Sigma Phi.

A November court decision allowed members of those fraternities to continue living together and operate as a fraternity house in the State College borough despite not having university recognition. The borough has since appealed that decision, which the university supports.

“On balance, we are making progress, but face significant challenges here and across the country,” Barron wrote. “We thank our Greek-life partners who have embraced change and we encourage others to seriously consider the lasting consequences of decisions that are counter to the tenants of student safety and well-being.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.