What will happen with the fraternities at Penn State?
It’s something a lot of people are asking. The death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza after an alleged fall at Beta Theta Pi has brought new focus on the Greek system and its pitfalls.
Read the comments on the articles about the tragedy, the State College police investigation and the university’s’ reaction — suspending all fraternity social events while — and you see two dominant responses. There is the “Frats are evil! Close them all!” camp. There is also the “This was an accident. Stop making a big deal out of nothing!” side.
And there is no telling what the full story is just yet. On the criminal side, police are pulling information, looking at video, interviewing witnesses. The university is looking at more than just the single event to “meaningful change” to the whole system.
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“An aggressive timeline is being established to finalize plans and adopt recommendations for change,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims.
That is important. But in all the responses, it seems like something has been lost.
Or more specifically, someone.
Piazza is not just the catalyst for an investigation. He played football and threw javelin. He was studying engineering. He had a mom and a dad and a brother and a girlfriend.
And a life. Piazza had a whole long life in front of him, full of good choices and bad choices, ups and downs, giving and taking and just plain growing up into the man who he might have become. That life ended too soon, a fact that is the reason there are investigations and plans but something that can get lost in the big discussions.
Coincidentally, there was one more thing about Piazza that seems very poignant. He was on the executive board of AYUDA, a special interest organization team for Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, Thon, the word’s largest student-run philanthropy, exemplifies everything good about the Greek system at Penn State, and it was something Piazza was a part of even before being invited to pledge. Thon is committed to raising money to help families fight pediatric cancer with a whip and a chair, giving sick kids a chance to have that whole long life that Piazza won’t see.
Piazza’s death may be under investigation and the attention it receives may bring about change, but his life and the good things he chose to do with it in the short 19 years he was here were already about trying to make positive changes and extend lives.
He was just a pledge. But what is a pledge? It’s a promise.