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Frequently Asked Questions

The tragic death in February of student 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, as we mourn the loss of this student.

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.

Penn State is focused on student safety and our commitment remains strong.

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

WHAT IS PENN STATE DOING TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS?

For more than a decade, Penn State has worked continuously to curtail high-risk alcohol consumption and the dangerous and destructive behaviors that accompany it. Like other institutions, Penn State has embraced new and existing educational models, created focused prevention approaches, involved and educated parents, corrected misperceptions about alcohol consumption among peers, provided interactive web-based materials and personalized feedback, collaborated with community partners and others, raised awareness, revamped policies, launched intervention programs and increased enforcement.

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. On June 2Penn State continued and strengthened sanctions it had imposed on Greek-letter organizations, adding additional measures and moving in an unprecedented manner to transfer responsibility to the University for Greek-letter organizations’ disciplinary matters – and move away from the self-governance model that has failed to bring an end to excessive drinking, hazing and sexual assault. Some of the new measures include:

  • University control of the fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and adjudication process.
  • Hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift permanent revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved.
  • Transition to deferred recruitment/rush process for fraternities and sororities.
  • Monitoring of social events by University staff members.
  • Capitation fee for support of extra services, spot-checkers/monitors, and educational activities.

For more information on announced measures, visit this link.

EDUCATION AND INFORMATION

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 has informed students about the issues and resources:

  • A session for parents and students in 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.

Penn State is continuing to lobby to expand the current law on Medical Amnesty for Underage Drinking to apply to the individual who requires medical assistance.

WHAT IS PENN STATE’S RELATIONSHIP TO ITS FRATERNITIES?

Penn State has had one of the most aggressive student misconduct policies in the country. It is important to understand, however, that fraternities at Penn State have traditionally been independent from the University – as is the common model across the nation. These groups are private organizations on private property, and have been self-governed, in part, by the Interfraternity Council, which is an autonomous student organization that receives advice from the University’s 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 larger Greek-letter organizations are the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Panhellenic Council (sororities), which are autonomous student-led organizations that oversee fraternities and sororities at Penn State. These councils, in collaboration with national fraternity and sorority organizations, establish policies and practices related to the chapters at Penn State.

On June 2, Penn State took the unprecedented action to transfer responsibility from the councils to the University for fraternity and sorority organizational misconduct and the discipline process, and also initiated several new reforms that groups must adhere to in order to gain University recognition. These new safety and reform initiatives represent a significant departure from the Greek system’s broken self-governance model and indicate steps necessary to address the complex problems negatively impacting the Greek system and our community.

The changes require significant shifts in the relationship among fraternities, sororities and the University, but true change will not happen without the chapters, alumni boards, housing boards, councils, and national organizations commitment and partnership in putting student safety first.

These measures augment a series of actions taken earlier this year.

DO THESE MEASURES APPLY TO OTHER CAMPUSES?

These measures are applicable to all Penn State campuses with Greek-letter organizations.  Certain elements of the measures may vary, depending on the structure of the particular Greek-letter organizations located at each campus. For more information, contact your local campus Student Affairs office.

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.

On June 16, Penn State supported the Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act (REACH) introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Patrick Meehan, Congressman from Pennsylvania’s 7th District. Penn State Provost Nicholas P. Jones joined with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and other key stakeholders for a press conference on Thursday, July 13, in Washington, D.C., to further support the Act. The bill would require incidents of hazing to be reported as part of any college’s annual crime report statistics. The University’s support for this legislation aligns with our commitment to implement significant reforms and to the safety and well-being of our students, and of the entire University community.

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 continue.

WHY DIDN’T PENN STATE JUST BAN ALL OF GREEK LIFE?

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

The University and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life are extremely busy planning the implementation process for the new safety measures, along with the Greek-life Response Team (named June 11) and its advisory group (named June 26).

One measure announced June 2 states that hazing that involves alcohol, physical abuse, or any behavior that puts a student’s mental or physical health at risk will result in swift revocation of University recognition for the chapter involved.

The changes require significant shifts in the relationship among fraternities, sororities and the University, but true change will require commitment and partnership from the chapters, alumni boards, housing boards, councils, and national organizations.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE GREEK-LIFE RESPONSE TEAM AND ITS ADVISORY COMMITTEE?

The Greek-life Response Team (GRT), named on June 11 by Penn State President Eric Barron, is not a task force, but a group of individuals who are responsible for employees that, as part of their portfolio of work duties, oversee the areas where the new measures must be implemented. As an example, the vice president for Government Affairs and Community Relations has responsibility for federal and state legislative interactions. Because we supported the legislation related to hazing, the University’s director of federal relations worked on that federal legislation. The GRT is the group with the authority and broad oversight of areas that has been assigned to track implementation of the new measures.

To assist, a partner group to the GRT has also been named, consisting of a dozen or more individuals who will review and react to the implementation plans for each of the new measures. This group is intentionally broad and representative, involving student leaders, members of sororities and fraternities, members of the Board of Trustees, various faculty and staff leaders, and alumni. This advisory group, co-chaired by the vice president for Commonwealth Campuses and the vice provost for Educational Equity will ensure that any proposed implementation plan does not have unintended consequences or miss any population of students.

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

The University, through its review and conduct processes, is looking at all aspects of the Beta Theta Pi tragedy. While we understand and have sympathy for those who desire immediate action, it is important to follow proper processes to ensure the integrity of any investigative work and conclusions. But we note there is no part of this tragedy that is not under review.

Our disciplinary process is separate and distinct from any criminal investigation, and the University’s conduct process for the Beta Theta Pi case continues. Initial hearings involving 35 students are complete, as part of an ongoing process that includes the right to appeal University findings. However, many students involved in this process have taken disciplinary withdrawals from Penn State. Penn State does not publicly disclose details of any individual student’s course through the conduct process, including the outcome of an investigation, or any resulting sanction should a student be found to have violated the Code of Conduct. We can say, however, that student conduct violations could include sanctions up to suspension or permanent separation/dismissal from the University.

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 from this tragedy.

 

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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 September 5, 2017

 

 

 

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