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Penn State Launches National Center for Greek Life Research and Reform

by on January 22, 2019 9:41 AM

Two years after the death of Penn State sophomore and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza, the university is launching a multi-million dollar research center named in his honor for the study of fraternities and sororities.

Penn State announced on Tuesday the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform. The university has pledged at least $2 million toward the multidisciplinary center's establishment, and a fundraising campaign aims to raise $3 million in private support with $3 million in matching funds from Penn State.

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

Piazza died in February 2017 after an alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night at the now-banned Beta Theta Pi Penn State chapter. The 19-year-old engineering major from Lebanon, N.J., was given 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes before falling head first down the basement stairs. He sustained multiple falls throughout the night, but no one called for help until the following morning. Piazza died on Feb. 4, 2017 from brain injuries, head trauma and massive internal bleeding caused by a shattered spleen.

Criminal charges, including hazing, were brought against more than two dozen fraternity brothers.

His death spurred major overhauls in Greek life at Penn State, with new restrictions on alcohol, changes in disciplinary procedures and sweeping new requirements for education and reporting. New legislation sponsored by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, with the support of the Piazza family and Penn State, was signed into law in 2018 and toughened the penalties for hazing while placing new requirements on organizations and educational institutions. 

Piazza's death also cast a national spotlight on hazing and the role of fraternities and sororities.

“We are pleased that Penn State is taking the lead in Greek-life reforms and cultural change with the creation of the Piazza Center as we approach the two-year anniversary of the death of our son Tim, as a result of the reckless and irresponsible behavior of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity,” said Jim Piazza.

“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 experience at Penn State and at college campuses throughout the country. 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."

The Piazza Center will build on the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research, which has been located at Indiana University since 1979 and is being transferred to Penn State.

Damon Sims, Penn State vice president for student affairs, said the the work at Indiana will provide a "solid foundation" for the new Piazza Center, which will benefit from a potentially $8 million endowment and multidisciplinary research and education initiatives.

"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,” Sims said.

Kaye Schendel, president of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research at Indiana University, lauded Penn State's commitment to providing "unprecedented" resources for research into fraternity and sorority life.

“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. "There finally will be the resources necessary to get real answers to these difficult questions.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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