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Piazzas speak with student leaders about Greek life safety

by on September 06, 2018 1:29 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — Jim and Evelyn Piazza, parents of Timothy Piazza, addressed student leaders in Penn State’s Greek-life community Aug. 29 as part of the “Reframing the New Member Experience” program. The Piazzas were invited by university President Eric Barron to speak at the event, which was coordinated through the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, a unit of Penn State Student Affairs.

Timothy Piazza was a sophomore at Penn State in 2017 when he died after a night of heavy drinking while pledging at the former Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Three former Beta Theta Pi members have entered guilty pleas to charges in connection with Piazza’s death. Twenty others still face charges.

With an emphasis on promotion of health, safety and civic engagement, the program was designed to help chapter officers reframe the experience that new members undergo during Greek-letter organization recruitment and new member education initiatives at the university.  

“The Piazzas have partnered with Penn State in these efforts to implement significant changes in the Greek-life experience,” said Steve Veldkamp, special assistant to the vice president for Student Affairs and interim director for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “They have advocated for meaningful change in the fraternity and sorority experience in the wake of their son’s death, including their support of the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, as well as their work to bring together parents of victims of hazing at other institutions to talk about issues and push for change.”

At the event, students listened to the Piazzas talk about their ongoing grief over the loss of their son and the significant role that each student must play in being a responsible member of the Greek-letter community. Students were then asked to discuss how they, as student leaders, would commit to creating a safer Greek system at Penn State.

Following small group discussions, students shared their ideas with the broader group, as well as the Piazzas, in an open conversation. Students expressed support for student safety, dedication to leadership development and a positive educational experience, as well as mentorship of new members and a new member experience rooted in the founding values of all Greek-letter organizations. Students specifically committed to checking in on others, holding each other accountable, stepping up if something isn’t right and leading by example.

The program and conversation with fraternity and sorority leaders represented Penn State’s ongoing pledge of progress and change within the Greek-life community. Following the tragic death of Timothy Piazza, Penn State launched numerous key initiatives aimed at refocusing its Greek community on safety.

Since 2017, meaningful progress has been made in many areas, including Penn State’s desire to foster a more constructive partnership with student leaders to prioritize the safety of their members. The “Reframing the New Member Experience” program, paired with additional member education initiatives, encourages student leaders to think critically about how they recruit and educate new members. Students are being asked to take a more active role in contributing to real change in these processes with a goal of eliminating hazing and other dangerous behaviors, such as underage drinking and alcohol abuse.

The Piazzas challenged students to live the values their organizations espouse. The Piazzas walked participants through common behaviors that constitute hazing, as well as the very real consequences of hazing activities. The couple stressed the importance of reporting hazing, calling 911 if someone is in danger and speaking out against behaviors that “don’t feel or look right.”

The couple also touched on the law and criminal consequences surrounding hazing in Pennsylvania, as well as the Medical Amnesty laws in place to protect students who call for help. Penn State’s Responsible Action Protocol also protects students from prosecution for consumption or possession of alcohol when they seek help for a peer who is passed out, unconscious or unresponsive as the result of over-consumption.

“We are grateful that Jim and Evelyn were willing to share their thoughts on this critical issue,” said Veldkamp. “It is now up to our student leaders to determine how to be the change.” 

 

 

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