Tears welled in Penn State President Eric Barron's eyes as he spoke to members of the media Friday afternoon following the announcement of charges against members of the former Beta Theta Pi fraternity related to the death of 19-year-old student Timothy Piazza.
During the course of its own student conduct investigation, Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi from the university and implemented a number of significant new restrictions on alcohol use and new member recruitment.
Piazza died in February after falling down the steps at the fraternity house during a bid acceptance party. Prosecutors said Piazza consumed enormous amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual and that members waited nearly 12 hours after he first fell to call paramedics. The fraternity and eight members face involuntary manslaughter, hazing charges and providing alcohol to minors. Those members also face a host of other charges including aggravated assault and simple assault.
Barron spoke about the devastation Piazza's family has experienced and the significant problems of overconsumption of alcohol and hazing at Penn State fraternities and across the nation.
The full text of Barron's prepared remarks follow:
Today, Centre County’s district attorney released findings of a grand jury investigation into the Feb. 4 death of student Timothy Piazza and former members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, which has been banned from ever returning to Penn State. The details alleged in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible. The University community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing.
The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand. It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community.
Alcohol misuse, hazing and sexual misconduct pose significant problems across the nation and particularly on college campuses. We have also seen a rise in the intensity of excessive drinking and hazing at Penn State and elsewhere, despite more than a decade of focus and the introduction of educational and other programs, as well as policies that clearly spell out consequences. Penn State has one of the most aggressive student misconduct policies in the country, and its off-campus policy pertaining to misconduct remains the most vigorous in the Big Ten. It should go without saying that hazing and dangerous drinking are not permitted by the University, and the University takes appropriate action to educate its students about these issues and to hold them accountable whenever it learns of such wrongdoing.
All indicators suggested Beta Theta Phi was a model fraternity – the house, privately-owned and situated like all other fraternity houses on private property, was beautiful, the subject of a multi-million dollar renovation; both the Beta alumni and the national organization provided strict rules of behavior; and, the brothers had a no alcohol policy which stated that anyone caught drinking would be expelled. It is clear, however, this was no “model” fraternity.
For this reason, we have announced the imposition of a number of aggressive measures and made clear recognition by the university is at stake for those Greek-letter organizations that do not abide by the rules. Indeed, since this tragic incident occurred, the University suspended Sigma Alpha Mu for its flagrant violations of our measures. While some have criticized our measures as excessive, they are not. It is essential that all constituents, including these private Greek-letter organizations, alumni, parents, national organizations and all other partners involved are committed in order to ensure immediate, vital and sustainable changes.
One of the underlying tenets of belonging to a community is the shared responsibility to the safety and well-being of its members. It is our collective obligation to act as mutually caring and responsible citizens, and to foster those values. Empathy and compassion are vital to who we are as Penn Staters, citizens and members of society.