Magazine article University Business

Death Brings Renewed Look at Greek Life Relations: Accommodating Fraternities and Sororities While Promoting Safe, Healthy Choices

Magazine article University Business

Death Brings Renewed Look at Greek Life Relations: Accommodating Fraternities and Sororities While Promoting Safe, Healthy Choices

Article excerpt

Penn State student Timothy Piazza died in February 2017 after participating in pledge acceptance night activities with the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. His death--which a grand jury has called "the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct"--reignited an age-old debate about the role of fraternities and sororities in campus life.

Penn State took swift action, permanently banning Beta Theta Pi, canceling 2017 rush, eliminating daylong Greek events, prohibiting kegs at frat parties and restricting the number of events at which alcohol is served. More changes are under consideration, with a recent statement promising "options that will depart drastically" from common measures elsewhere.

The question of how to accommodate Greek life is a continued conundrum for college officials nationwide. The fact that Penn State's Beta Theta Pi chapter had previously won awards for conduct and integrity underscores what North-American Interfraterniry Conference President and CEO Judson Horras calls "an uncomfortable truth." In a May 12 blog post, Horras wrote: "The inherent limitations of our interventions is that they attempt to influence student behavior from a position of external power."

In other words, higher ed will need more than rules set by national Greek organizations to eliminate hazing, excessive alcohol use, sexual harassment and other misbehavior. Efforts to educate students in making healthy choices is crucial, and colleges should commit to building relationships with the Greek system, says Laura Blake Jones, dean of students at the University of Michigan.

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A partnership approach

The amount of direct control colleges have over Greek life depends, in part, on whether or not Greek residences are on or off university-owned property--and the location of that housing is a variable that college officials ultimately can't control. Policies regulating Greek life and student behavior can't guarantee compliance or good outcomes either. That's why the University of Michigan, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and others focus time and attention on Greek life connections.

In fact, the No. …

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