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Why ‘Aggressive’ Reform Won’t Change Anything For Penn State Greek Life

Penn State released details Monday on how the Greek regulations passed by the Board of Trustees in June will be implemented this semester. But given easy workarounds, they might not matter.

You may have walked down fraternity row this week and seen a few houses that were definitely hosting parties. Though perhaps “upstairs” and without people spilling into the street, a party is difficult to hide. It’s worth noting not every organization will evade Penn State’s new policies, but undeniable that many might at least try.

Despite President Barron’s “aggressive” new measures and willingness to play ball by suspending careless chapters, here’s how Greek organizations could sidestep these regulations:

University spot-check monitoring

The rule: Penn State plans to hire 14 full-time student affairs staffers, eight of whom will be dedicated specifically to monitoring Greek organizations with random spot-checks. The university expects chapters to allow monitors in any common areas within chapter houses.

The problem: Upstairs parties. It’s safe to assume brothers’ bedrooms aren’t considered common areas.

Social restrictions

The rule: Alcohol moratorium continues until at least November 1 with no daylongs allowed thereafter while no chapter can host more than 10 events with alcohol per semester. Socials are limited to the legal capacity of the chapter house and RAMP-certified servers can only serve beer and wine to those 21 or older. Penn State will place sanctions on any Greek organization that isn’t preventing underage drinking in its facilities.

The problem: Bear with me here because there are plenty of ways to skirt these. Greek organizations have already held parties/socials this semester and we’re less than a week in. Spot-checkers presumably won’t be able to find any violations outside of common areas. Events with alcohol upwards of the 10 per semester limit won’t be registered. Beer and wine will be served in common areas but liquor will be available elsewhere, like upstairs or inside the brothers’ bedrooms. Those attending frat parties will bring their own liquor in. Frats will get their own members RAMP certified so they can essentially do whatever they want. Did I miss anything?

Deferred recruitment

The rule: Full-time students must have at least 14 credits completed at Penn State with a 2.5 GPA to be eligible to rush.

The problem: Students could “unofficially” rush/pledge during the fall semester but won’t be officially listed on rosters until the spring semester when they’re actually eligible.

New member process (pledging)

The rule: Pledging can only take up to six weeks. Each chapter must produce “an individual and specific new member process and education plan” to be approved by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

The problem: Just because an organization submits an acceptable plan doesn’t mean they will actually follow said plan, even if they follow it on paper. And even if they do, who says hazing practices can’t be secretly added?

Greek chapter scorecard

The rule: A scorecard for each chapter will be posted online every semester with information like total members, cumulative GPA, alcohol and hazing violations, and any chapter suspensions.

The problem: We’ve heard this one before. I’ll believe it when I see it. Chapters can’t exactly fudge this information, but I’m not convinced many potential new members — or even their parents — care about what these score cards say. It will also take the university actively updating the website, which could easily fall by the wayside as time goes on.

Greek membership fee to fund new services

The rule: All chapter members within the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils will pay $90 per semester, while members within the Multicultural Greek and National Pan-Hellenic Councils will pay $30 per semester.

The problem: This may be the only measure members can’t avoid — especially if the fee is charged to each student’s bursar tuition account. These funds will be used mostly to fund the new employees in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life. But is it worth it if these spot-check monitors aren’t an effective means of enforcing the new reforms?

Reinstatement of the Neighborhood Enforcement Alcohol Team (NEAT)

The rule: NEAT will re-launch this year, organized by the State College and Penn State Police Departments in partnership with the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. Officers focus on enforcement and education related to alcohol, noise, and other disorderly incidents and conduct pre-party checks during early evening hours.

The problem: Prior alcohol education at Penn State has done little to stem the problem. Also, pre-party checks are useless. Period.

Relationship statement

The rule: All members will be required to sign a relationship statement that “clarifies the respective rights and responsibilities of the university, the chapters, and their members.”

The problem: Signing a relationship statement probably means nothing to most students. How often do people actually read an agreement before they sign it?

Further parent and member education

The rule: The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life will hold an education session for parents during Parent and Family weekend in October and give out information opportunities and risks, signs of troublesome behavior, and incident reporting information

The problem: Many parents don’t attend Parent and Family weekend; those who do probably want to spend as much time with their students as possible, so it’s unknown how many will attend these additional education sessions. Additionally, some parents of students involved in Greek life were involved in Greek life themselves and support their students’ decisions to join.

Semester survey for new members

The rule: An anonymous survey will be sent to all new members to ask about their pledging experience and determine “if any hazing activities may be occurring.” Randomly selected new members from every chapter will also be interviewed by university staff.

The problem: Despite the promise of anonymity, surveys and interviews offer little power to encourage new members to report hazing.

No tolerance for hazing

The rule: Any hazing will result in “swift permanent revocation of university recognition for the chapter involved.”

The problem: The university has to find out about hazing before those involved can be reprimanded. What happens if no students speak up?

Risk management policy review

The rule: The Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life has developed a program for presidents and risk managers of Greek chapters to develop new risk management plans and policies.

The problem: Old risk management plans and policies clearly weren’t followed. Why should we expect the new plans and policies to be adopted any differently?

Other Measures

The rule:

  1. Reviewing the size of sororities
  2. Push for stronger criminal penalties for hazing
  3. Education on medical amnesty
  4. Coordinating a national conference hosted by the Big Ten to examine and find solutions to problems shared by other institutions with Greek-letter organizations

The problem:

  1. Other student organizations, like some THON special interest orgs, are much larger than sororities, so size as a standalone factor seems irrelevant.
  2. Again, hazing must be exposed or reported before those involved can be reprimanded at any level.
  3. Medical amnesty usually applies only to the person who actually calls for help — not everyone else at the party. That doesn’t mean it’s not important for students to know about, however. More on this here.
  4. Comparing notes doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t directly solve any problems.

Of course it’s not to say that every Greek organization will break each of the rules (or any of the rules), but the university’s comprehensive overhaul probably won’t be as effective as administrators hope it will.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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