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And So We Wait

Transience is both the friend and the enemy of the college campus. We evolve, but we forget.

Tim Piazza became a household name in February when he fell down the basement steps at Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity house after excessive drinking and hazing during the fraternity’s bid acceptance night rituals. Piazza’s would-be “brothers” waited nearly 12 hours to contact paramedics, and he died from his injuries at Hershey Medical Center.

Following a grand jury investigation of what really happened inside the fraternity house that night, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller levied charges against the fraternity chapter itself and against 18 of its former members, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and simple assault. District Judge Allen Sinclair dismissed these serious charges without explanation after preliminary hearings, leaving only the lesser charges like hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors bound over for trial.

What message does this send to fraternity brothers across the nation who accept hazing as part of Greek life?

There’s a reason hazing has been an institution of exclusive groups like Greek organizations for literal centuries. “It’s no big deal. Everyone does it. No one’s going to get in trouble.” Without a whistleblower or a horrific tragedy, hazing happens behind closed doors, between friends — between brothers.

If hours of grueling surveillance footage showing drinking and hazing rituals at a supposedly “dry” fraternity house isn’t enough to thoroughly damn those responsible, then it’s clear nothing will ever be enough. I’m confident when I say there will never be another hazing case with this much concrete evidence — even after video footage from the basement of the fraternity house was reportedly deleted.

West Virginia University. November 2014.

Freshman Nolan Burch was found on the floor of Kappa Sigma fraternity and rushed to Ruby Memorial Hospital, where he ultimately died of heart failure from extreme intoxication after hazing during a big/little initiation ceremony.

Those present called another fraternity brother who wasn’t originally at the event when they noticed Burch’s face was blue. The brother called 9-1-1 and performed CPR, helping enough to allow doctors to put Burch on life support. Much like Piazza, Burch may have survived if he arrived at the hospital sooner — if his “brothers” called for help sooner.

After a few months of investigation, two Kappa Sigma brothers were charged with hazing.

Burch’s death prompted the university to suspend all Greek social and pledging activities indefinitely. Fraternities and sororities at WVU were permitted in early January to resume chapter meetings and to confirm members recruited during the previous fall.

Later that month, organizations could resume social and recruitment activities “if they signed on to new rules that require them to host dry and philanthropic events, as well as submit plans for chapter activities to administrators,” according to The Huffington Post.

Just shy of a year later, seven WVU Fiji brothers were charged with disorderly conduct when police found student Christopher Grace bound with duct tape in a trunk as part of a “fraternity prank.”

One. Year. Later. Because we forgot.

How does this affect the Piazza family’s and the university’s efforts to fix Penn State’s broken Greek life system?

Students, faculty, staff, and administrators may see the current impacts of new Greek life regulations, but they’ll fade in due time. In less than five years, nearly every student who attended Penn State to see this horrific tragedy firsthand will have moved on.

The new “fixed” Greek system will simply be the only Greek system for students who enroll at Penn State next fall. But it’ll inevitably crack again, and sooner than we all think.

Forever a wide-eyed freshman in a grey hoodie, Joe Dado was found dead in a stairwell between the Hosteler and Steidle buildings after a 30-hour search in 2009. Most current Penn State students don’t even recognize his name.

Dado was last seen at Fiji around 3 a.m., but the 18-year-old also drank alcohol that night he received from ATO, a Fiji brother he knew from home, and a friend’s sister. Both fraternities and the two individuals were charged with furnishing alcohol to minors.

On the two year anniversary of Dado’s death, Onward State editor Devon Edwards wrote, “We might have pledged to be better people in his honor, but I haven’t noticed a palpable change in the past two years.”

Nothing. Changed. Because we forgot.

As 14 former Beta Theta Pi brothers follow through continued court proceedings for their remaining charges, we’ll all forget the details of Piazza’s devastating death. Most of those charged will probably take plea deals with little to no jail time — a slap on the wrist compared to the sentencing they could’ve faced for involuntary manslaughter — a few thousand dollars in fines, and some community service hours.

And so we wait.

We wait for the next Tim Piazza. It might not happen at Penn State, but it will happen on a college campus, and it’s only a matter of time.

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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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