- Penn State President Imposes New Rules for Greek Life
- Zoning Issues for Closed Greek Houses
- Lawsuit and Possible Sale Follows Closing of Beta House
- Tragedy at Penn State and its Consequences
Newsletter > May 2017 > "Tragedy at Penn State and its Consequences"
Tragedy at Penn State and its Consequences
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
What could they have been thinking, these men of principle?
Timothy Piazza is dead. For absolutely no reason. His parents are left to grieve in the wake of the inexplicable conduct of his would-be “brothers.” Their lives too are now changed utterly. The magnificent modern Beta Theta Pi House on the Penn State campus is shuttered, the Chapter closed and permanently banned from the campus.
Tim was excitedly expecting to begin the path to join the brotherhood of Beta Theta Pi. That path should have led to an important enhancement of his college experience and forged bonds of lifelong friendships. But it was not without a certain amount of trepidation that he faced what would come next. He texted his girlfriend “They’re going to get me f—ed up.”
He was right. As a part of the chapter bid night “celebration,” Tim, well under the Pennsylvania Commonwealth’s age to legally consume alcohol, was supplied with a wide assortment of alcoholic beverages and expected to drink. He did, to the point that a later medical estimate of his blood alcohol content was .40. Video shows him repeatedly unable to stand. He ultimately fell down a flight of stairs, and was knocked unconscious. Shortly before midnight, one brother texted “Tim Piazza might actually be a problem … going to need help.” But no call for help was made.
Instead, supposedly well-meaning brothers moved him to a couch and put a backpack on him to prevent him from rolling over and potentially suffocating in his own vomit. And there he lay hour after hour after hour, well into the next morning.
Members of the Chapter knew they had a problem. One suggested in a text “Just tell them … (we) found him behind (a bar) the next morning around 10:00 a.m. and he was freezing cold, but we decided to call 911 instantly because the kid’s health was paramount.” Finally, a full 11 hours after he fell down the stairs, emergency services were called. He was rushed to a local hospital, then flown to a more specialized hospital where he later succumbed. He died from the multiple injuries, too long gone untreated, including a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, multiple wounds to his head, which had bounced off of an iron railing and a concrete floor, and brain damage.
Both Penn State and Beta Theta Pi Headquarters responded immediately to the horrific facts. The Chapter was closed. Penn State said permanently. Penn State and its IFC went on to temporarily shut down all fraternity social events.
Dr. Eric Barron, the President of the University, said later, after the University’s initial imposition of corrective action failed to halt alcohol-related misconduct:
“Many members of the Penn State administration and Board of Trustees are wondering if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Greek life at Penn State.
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But surely the closure of a chapter and vacating of a house would be a deterrent for all others, and a “report card” would provide warning signs on when an intervention was needed. The tragic and heart-wrenching death of a student at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity completely changed this view. The Beta fraternity was viewed as a model fraternity and reflected a national perspective on many best practices. 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. The brothers had a “no alcohol” policy, which stated that anyone caught drinking would be expelled from the fraternity. There was a live-in oversight as contracted through an external agreement with the national organization. The owner of the house wired it for video surveillance. There were no outward signs of large parties, which are frequently the bane of community members. All indicators suggested a “model” fraternity. Yet, a death occurred because a student was forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol in a hazing ritual. The story is even worse. The story is incomprehensible.
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In the past, Greek life had a powerful positive effect on many of our alumni. The positive is well worth protecting – the value of brotherhood and sisterhood and the great service associated with the Greek life. But the stories cited above cannot continue. If they do, I predict that we will see many empty houses and then the end of Greek life at Penn State.”
Beta Theta Pi, a proud national fraternity, that takes seriously the enforcement of its policies and the development of its members as Men of Principle, is left to express its deepest sympathy to Tim’s family.
Now, the next stage in the lives of those alleged to be the most responsible begins. Eighteen of Tim’s would-be brothers now face criminal charges. Some of them must consider the very real possibility that part of the rest of their lives will be spent in prison. Some face merely charges of providing alcohol to minors, but eight individuals and the Chapter itself will stand before a judge and jury in the Common Pleas Court of Centre County, Pennsylvania and answer to a charge of negligent homicide and the possibility of five years of incarceration.