Penn State

A multi-million dollar research center to study Greek life is coming to Penn State

Penn State University pledged at least $2 million Tuesday toward the establishment of a national, multidisciplinary research center to study Greek life.

The Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform is named in honor of the 19-year-old who died in February 2017 after pledging activities at Beta Theta Pi.

“Universities have been operating in a void and missing critical information, such as a consistent nationwide look at Greek life on our campuses,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a press release. “With the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center ... university leaders will now have a dedicated center for study of best practices and assessment in fraternity and sorority life across the county. The Piazza Center will provide an essential leadership role to compel the collective change required.”

Penn State President Eric Barron shakes hands with Evelyn Piazza in March 2018 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

Jim Piazza, Timothy’s father, said the family is pleased Penn State is taking the lead in Greek life reforms as they approach the two-year anniversary of their son’s death.

“We are also grateful that President Eric Barron has followed through on his commitment to us to make meaningful, positive change and to enhance transparency to protect our children who choose the Greek life experiences at Penn State and at college campuses throughout the country,” Piazza said in the press release. “We know these changes required making many tough decisions and we applaud him for staying the course. We are grateful for Tim’s legacy to live on at Penn State and through the Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation.”

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Jim Piazza speaks about the importance of passing anti-hazing legislation named after his son, Timothy Piazza, outside of the Centre County Courthouse on March 23, 2018. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

The center will be supported by a fundraising campaign aimed at garnering $3 million in private support, with the promise of an additional $3 million in matching funds from Penn State — bringing the potential endowment to $8 million.

Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, said the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research at Indiana University provided a “solid foundation” for Penn State to expand upon. The center has been at IU since 1979 and is in the process of being transferred to PSU.

“The new center at Penn State will benefit from a significant endowment to initiate new multidisciplinary research and education initiatives and fill a major void in the field for knowledge and best practices information,” Sims said in the press release. “This is a profound development that over time will help universities develop and refine Greek life initiatives with the benefit of far greater knowledge and research than has been available in this field.”

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Penn State President Eric Barron, left, and Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims on May 5, 2017. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

Kaye Schendel, president of the Chapter for Fraternity and Sorority Research at IU, said Penn State’s leadership and commitment to providing resources to advance research in the area is “unprecedented.”

“Penn State’s plans will fulfill our center’s vision for a fraternity and sorority experience informed by assessment and research aligned with the mission of higher education,” Schendel said in the press release. “There finally will be the resources necessary to get real answers to these difficult questions.”

Steve Veldkamp, interim director for fraternity and sorority life at Penn State and assistant to Sims, has been the executive director at the IU center since 2005 and will continue in that role during the establishment of the Piazza Center, according to Lisa Powers, Penn State’s senior director of news and media relations.

She also said the Piazza Center will be closely linked to Penn State’s student affairs research and assessment operation.

“One staff member currently affiliated with the Center at Indiana University will continue to provide service to the Piazza Center. Other personnel will be brought on board as the center develops,” Powers wrote in an email. “A faculty member whose research focus is on student life in college, particularly fraternity and sorority life, also will be recruited and other faculty members representing a multidisciplinary approach to this work will be sought to affiliate with the new center.”

Penn State believes the creation of the center is the latest in a series of “aggressive measures” that began in 2017 to overcome challenges in the Greek community, including a national scorecard on fraternities and sororities and doubling the staffing at the student affairs office.

The university also supported the recently-enacted Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing law, which required secondary schools and higher education institutions to publish a biannual report on hazing violations.

University officials have also participated in national conversations about Greek life reform. Sims is scheduled to continue that discussion when he visits Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 31 to meet with other student affairs leaders.

Powers said Sims was invited to discuss the status of the Piazza Center with colleagues from other universities and “hopes to gain their support.”

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