- Update on FLSA
- Association of Fraternity Advisors on Non-Binary Issue
- Non-binary Gender in a Binary System
- Even the Unpopular Have Associational Rights
- OSU Suspends All IFC Activity
- A Senseless Epidemic
Newsletter > November 2017 > "A Senseless Epidemic"
A Senseless Epidemic
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately the tragic and totally unnecessary death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State early this year failed to convince some of the dangers of alcohol and hazing. Now Max Gruver is dead after an event in a fraternity house, and ten people are charged in his death at Louisiana State University (LSU). On November 3rd, Andrew Coffey was found dead at Florida State University (FSU) after a fraternity event. Just ten days later, Matthew Ellis died after what several news sources described as a fraternity initiation at Texas State University (TSU).
Following in the footsteps of Penn State’s President, the Presidents at LSU, FSU and TSU announced immediate shut downs of their entire Greek systems.
A month after suspending all activities of its fraternities and sororities, F. King Alexander, the President of LSU, issued the following statement on October 19, 2017:
Dear LSU Greek Community,
I know that we are still mourning the tragic loss of Maxwell Gruver to an alleged hazing event. Together, we extend our deepest continued condolences to his grieving family.
As you know, following his passing, we immediately halted all Greek activities to evaluate and ensure the safety of our students, and created a Greek Life Task Force to investigate the culture of our organizations here at LSU. My staff and I have met frequently to discuss preventative and re-educational efforts, and as organizations moved forward with related training, we felt that some privileges could be reinstated upon periodic evaluation. Last week, we shared that, assuming students continued to behave in a responsible manner and followed our policies and procedures, Greek organizations could begin to have on-campus social events with alcohol – events regulated with outside security and ID checks.
During this time, I have been approached by a variety of individuals ranging from current students to parents and alumni, who have shared information with me through confidential conversations. These details demonstrate that there are those among us who have not yet absorbed the severity and seriousness of the current situation. It also underscores that there are a few who seek to maintain the status quo despite continued warnings about the dangers inherent in such actions.
After evaluating the compelling stories shared with me and their frightening implications for students safety, I have determined that we will continue to allow Greek organizations to have registered on-campus events, but without alcohol. This course of action will stand at least until the Task Force renders its recommendations in January 2018. At that point, we will evaluate these recommendations and determine how to best integrate them into our existing policies and procedures. If you have information that could benefit the Greek Life Task Force as it conducts a thorough and exhaustive inquiry, please send it to email@example.com (mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=).
I ask again that we work together in order to eradicate this dangerous undercurrent of behavior. Commit to change for the better. If your organization is already a standard-bearer, take this time to help your peers move toward that same threshold. If you know of troubling, potentially hazardous behavior within your house, your chapter, or other student organizations, I ask that you report it now. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your friends. Do it for Max and the Gruver family.
F. King Alexander
Andrew Coffey, a pledge to a fraternity at Florida State University, was found unresponsive after attending a party. He could not be revived. Florida State University President John Thrasher promptly announced that he was imposing an indefinite interim suspension on all fraternities and sororities at Florida State. A Florida State University press release quotes the President as saying “For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek Life at the University. There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it.”
The FSU President also imposed a prohibition on alcohol at all Recognized Student Organizations events for the duration of the interim suspension. According to the Florida State release, that prohibition involves more than 700 organizations outside of the Greek community. That in and of itself is an unusual move as typically, unfortunately, schools only target Greek groups with system-wide suspensions.
In a letter to FSU, Andrew Coffey’s family said:
In our family’s attempt to heal from the death of our son Andrew, it is incredibly important to us to let the people who have been involved know how grateful we are. Beginning with the first responders and their efforts to save him, to the staff at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital who took care of “Drew” until he could come home, we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.
We are encouraged to see that FSU is using their powerful position to open the necessary conversations and lead the way in making change. Not only for themselves, but for Universities throughout the state and hopefully across the nation. These changes can insure no family will ever have to experience the avoidable heartache of losing a child in the most shining moments of their lives.
Joining the chorus of grieving, outraged university presidents, TSU’s Denise M. Trauth announced following the discovery of Matthew Ellis’s body:
I have asked Dr. Joanne Smith, Vice President for Student Affairs, who has responsibility for the Greek Affairs system, to immediately initiate this review and propose recommendations for reinstating fraternity and sorority chapters that demonstrate a commitment to the core values of Texas State and the ideals established by their respective national organizations.
It is imperative that our entire university community develop a culture that places the highest priority on the safety of its students, faculty, and staff.
The investigations into the deaths of Andrew Coffey at FSU and Matthew Ellis at TSU are ongoing. But there are some facts known about Max Gruver’s death at LSU. He was found to have an alcohol blood content of .495, five times the legal limit in many states. One student was charged with negligent homicide; others are charged with hazing.
Should the investigations at Florida State and Texas State indicate those deaths were related to hazing or providing alcohol to a minor, it can be expected that criminal charges will be brought at those schools as well.
Clearly, Max Gruver, Andrew Coffey and now Matthew Ellis will be mourned and they should be, just as Tim Piazza was. But that is not enough. Somehow, the message has got to get through that hazing and alcohol provided to minors in outrageous amounts as a part of hazing is criminal and life-threatening.
For tens of thousands of members of fraternities and sororities on more than 600 college campuses, Greek Life can be an important part of the college experience and create a lifetime of friends and memories. Community service, philanthropy, leadership opportunities and enjoyable and safe social events all are hallmarks of a good Greek Life chapter. Hazing and alcohol abuse are the antithesis of what a fraternal experience should be… worse, it is criminal. Those found to have engaged in hazing will increasingly face criminal charges, as they should.
But every time there is a tragedy like Tim Piazza, Max Gruver, Andrew Coffey, and Matthew Ellis, Greek Life is jeopardized, not only on the campus where it has occurred, but it also motivates those who would seek to end the existence of fraternities and sororities on campuses throughout the country.
At least at the state universities, there remains a real question about how far universities can go in imposing a punishment on groups that had no role in the misconduct that leads to tragedies, but in the aftermath of a death, it is hard to argue with a short timeout.1 When such deaths repeat in epidemic fashion, it becomes ever more difficult to be heard when speaking for the fraternity experience.
1 Yet the loss of First Amendment freedoms, as the United State Supreme court has said, “for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. James, 427 U.S. 347 (1976).