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Frequently Asked Questions

The recent tragic death of Timothy Piazza has shaken and impacted all of us in the Penn State community. Our hearts go out to the student’s family and friends.

Penn State has focused for more than a decade on issues of excessive alcohol consumption and hazing, but like many other universities and colleges across the country these remain a serious challenge. It should go without saying that hazing and underage drinking are illegal and not permitted by the University. Penn State has and will continue to educate its students about these issues and will hold them accountable whenever it learns of such wrongdoing.

Our commitment to change remains strong. We will not rest until we solve this problem.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions as they relate to the recent issues:

WHAT IS PENN STATE DOING TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS?

On March 30, Penn State took away the recognition of Beta Theta Pi, permanently. On April 20, Penn State suspended Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity’s recognition on the University Park campus for no less than a two-year period following multiple violations.

Alcohol misuse, hazing and sexual misconduct among students are challenges at nearly every college and university across the country. Visit this link to see what measures past and present have been taken. Here are ways that Penn State informs students about the issues:

  • There is a session for parents and students in our New Student Orientation on health and safety, covering alcohol poisoning, the connection between alcohol and sexual assault, and information about both Pennsylvania laws and University policies. It may be beneficial to go over the content with your student to reiterate the impact that alcohol and drug use can have on their lives.
  • Every first-year student receives three communication pieces from University Health Services at all alcohol education workshops.
  • We require students who have violated laws or policies related to underage drinking, public drunkenness, excessive consumption, or driving under the influence, either on or off campus, to attend two private sessions with trained alcohol counselors in our BASICS program and hold them accountable through the University’s conduct process.
  • We require that fraternities and sororities participate in educational programs on alcohol, sexual assault, and hazing.
  • Launched in January 2016, the University’s bystander intervention initiative, Stand for State, has offered workshops each semester to help students build confidence to take action, practice discreet ways to intervene and learn how small choices can add up to create a safer campus. The program is focused on four areas: sexual and relationship violence, bias and discrimination, risky drinking and drug use, and mental health.

For students already on campus, the following resources and programs are available:

HOW DO STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT THE MEDICAL AMNESTY PROGRAM?

In 2011, Pennsylvania adopted and later amended a Good Samaritan Law. This law typically protects anyone under the age of 21 from prosecution for possession or consumption of alcohol, when that person seeks medical assistance for someone who they believe requires such assistance.

Additionally, since 2010, Penn State has enforced a medical amnesty Responsible Action Protocol. Under the protocol, a student who notifies the appropriate authority, including police or emergency medical personnel, that attention is required by a peer due to alcohol concerns, will not typically face University disciplinary action for their own alcohol violations in that context.

  • Penn State’s medical amnesty Responsible Action Protocol is discussed with new students at New Student Orientation every year.
  • It’s covered in a session titled “Smart & Safe at State” – and is presented alongside information about alcohol use and abuse, campus police, University Health Services, sexual assault prevention, Counseling and Psychological Services, Bystander Intervention, and more.
  • It is provided in writing in our Preface Magazine that is sent to each incoming undergraduate student’s permanent address 2-3 weeks before the start of each semester.
  • In addition, the Responsible Action Protocol can be found on the Office of Student Conduct website and is publicized during the year in residence halls routinely. Both hazing and dangerous drinking are topics that are covered in Penn State’s Annual Security Report.
  • An information card about Pennsylvania laws related to alcohol, as well as Penn State’s policies, is provided at every alcohol education workshop, and given to every first-year student in their welcome bags from Residence Life staff.
  • First-year students also are required to take an online alcohol education course before stepping on campus.

WHAT IS PENN STATE’S RELATIONSHIP TO ITS FRATERNITIES?

Penn State has one of the most aggressive student misconduct policies in the country. It is important to understand, however, that fraternities at Penn State are independent from the University. These groups are private organizations on private property, and self-governed, in part, by the Interfraternity Council, which is an autonomous student organization that receives advice from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. At nearly every college and university that has fraternities, the ability to influence outcomes among these young adults is profoundly limited.

The local governing councils of Penn State’s Greek-letter organizations are the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Panhellenic Council, which are autonomous student-led organizations that oversee fraternities and sororities at Penn State. While the IFC and Panhellenic are advised by staff in the University’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, they are self-governing. These councils, in collaboration with national fraternity and sorority organizations, establish policies and practices related to the chapters at Penn State.

WHAT IS PENN STATE DOING TO THE FRATERNITY (BETA THETA PI)?

Beta Theta Pi can never return to campus and its former members cannot live in the former fraternity house. When a fraternity loses recognition from the University, it can no longer participate in any student activities.

WHAT NEW ACTIONS ARE REQUIRED IN ORDER TO REMAIN A RECOGNIZED GREEK-LETTER ORGANIZATION AT PENN STATE?

In order for a fraternity or sorority to be recognized as a student organization by Penn State, it must adhere to the below:

  • Formal recruitment of new fraternity and sorority members, also known as rush, will be deferred from fall to spring semester for both fraternities and sororities in the 2017-18 academic year.
  • New social restrictions will include a strongly enforced prohibition against underage possession or consumption of alcohol in chapter houses and activities.
  • Attendance at social events will be limited to the legal capacity of the chapter house.
  • Failure by the Greek-letter organizations to effectively prevent underage consumption and excessive drinking in their facilities and activities may lead the University to adopt further restrictions, including the possibility of declaring that the system must be completely dry.
  • These social restrictions will be enforced by a new monitoring protocol that will use both third parties and a combination of student leadership and University staff. When discovered, any violations of these expectations will result in appropriate and significant disciplinary action.
  • There will be no tolerance for hazing in these organizations, as all hazing is a violation of Pennsylvania law. Hazing that involves alcohol or serious physical abuse will likely lead to loss of University recognition. Increased educational programming focused on preventing hazing will be mandatory for all chapter members.

WHAT IS THE UNIVERSITY’S STANCE ON HAZING?

Hazing is a violation of not only University rules, but also Pennsylvania law. Penn State opposes hazing in any form and seeks to educate our students to avoid hazing, recognize it, and act in ways that will stop it.

The University takes accusations of hazing seriously and is committed to addressing them. When Penn State receives information regarding allegations of hazing, the claims are investigated and individuals are held accountable.

HOW DOES PENN STATE LEARN OF HAZING?

It is critical that individuals bring issues to the forefront that might otherwise be kept hidden. Hazing within organizations, especially private member organizations on private property, is difficult to detect given that many Greek-letter organizations will hide such behavior from public scrutiny. The University may learn of hazing misconduct in a variety of ways – sometimes roommates of pledges inform us, or parents may call with concerns about their child.

Some individuals may not feel comfortable reporting issues, and can do so anonymously. Even if a person reporting reveals his or her identity to the University, Penn State staff take every step available to keep identities  confidential.

As a way to learn more about what is occurring within Greek-letter organizations, Penn State sends a survey to every new fraternity and sorority member, that requests information about the experiences they are having within their organizations. Also, a group of randomly selected new members from every fraternity are interviewed about their experiences. Both of these initiatives have proven to be useful and will be repeated in the coming year.

WILL PENN STATE BAN ALL OF GREEK LIFE?

Failure by Penn State’s Greek-letter organizations to effectively prevent underage consumption of alcohol and excessive drinking, hazing and assault may lead the University to adopt further restrictions, including the possibility of declaring that the system must be completely dry.  We are hopeful that our fraternities and sororities are as determined as Penn State to avoid outcomes that threaten their continued success.

As Penn State President Barron indicated in a recent blog post, the positives provided by the Greek-life community are worth protecting – but in order for that to occur, change is needed.

WHAT IS THE UNIVERSITY DOING ABOUT THE STUDENTS NAMED IN THE GRAND JURY PRESENTMENT?

A graduation hold was placed on any student named in the grand jury presentment who was scheduled to graduate in the spring. We will begin University disciplinary proceedings against individual students involved in this matter, now that the results of the criminal investigation have been released.

WHY HAVEN’T YOU EXPELLED THE STUDENTS WHO WERE ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED?

Currently, these former fraternity members are facing allegations brought by the Centre County District Attorney. There will be more court proceedings.

Penn State’s disciplinary process is separate and distinct from any criminal investigation. In this case, we are looking at what is provided to us by local police and our Office of Student Conduct is undertaking an investigative review, which will be used to inform the conduct processes. The results of those processes will ultimately determine if an individual has violated Penn State’s student code of conduct, and will be subject to disciplinary sanctions if found in violation.

HAVE PENN STATE ADMINISTRATORS BEEN IN CONTACT WITH THE PIAZZA FAMILY?

As the University community continues to mourn the death of student Timothy Piazza, our thoughts remain with Tim’s family and friends for the devastating heartbreak they are experiencing. We will always mourn this, and we are committed to honoring the Piazza family’s desire to have meaningful student safety improvements come out of this tragedy.

Penn State senior administrators have communicated frequently with the Piazzas since this tragedy occurred, and have given careful consideration to the family’s needs and wishes throughout this deeply troubling time. We have provided University support services at the family’s disposal. The family is understandably upset for our absence from the funeral and for this, we are very sorry.

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All statements the president or the university have made on the fraternity matters can be found here under the Quick Links section of the Penn State Update website.

For more information on Greek life and steps the University is taking, visit: http://pennstateupdate.psu.edu/greek-letter-organizations/
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Page last updated May 22, 2017

 

 

 

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