The death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza earlier this year is one of the more upsetting stories of 2017 thus far. Piazza had accepted his bid at Beta Theta Pi, and fell down the stairs at the fraternity house after being forced to drink a ton. Fraternities and hazing have been a hot button topic for years now, and the Piazza story has been one of the most talked about in recent memory. One of the people to write about it is Jonathan Zimmerman, a UPenn professor. In his article, Close down all fraternities, he calls for universities to stop recognizing fraternities all together. After reading the whole thing, I can honestly say this guy’s argument makes little to no sense. You can read Zimmerman’s article here.
First off, let me say this. The actions of the Penn State Beta Theta Pi brothers that night are inexcusable. No one should be forced to drink that much alcohol in such a short amount of time, but the worst part is how long it took them to call for help. Clearly, some of the brothers knew Piazza hit his head, and knew how badly he needed to go to the hospital. This is the saddest part of the whole story to me. Fraternities are about brotherhood, always being there for the guys next to you. Even though Piazza was just a pledge, that same mentality should extend. You should do anything to help your brother, despite the possible repercussions for the fraternity. Even worse than that, where’s the basic sense of human decency? Piazza was clearly more than just a kid who had a little too much to drink, and they let a young man lose his life far too soon. Hopefully, all those kids will get the justice they deserve, even though they can never really make up for what they did. They took the lives of one of their own, and left his parents without their son. As devastating as this incident was, and as much as I believe everything possible should be done to prevent it from happening again, I don’t think colleges banning Greek life is the answer. Here’s why.
First of all, I can speak from a similar experience that the overwhelming majority of fraternities would not have handled that situation as poorly as Beta Theta Pi did that night. At my fraternity’s last party my freshman year, a girl passed out from drinking too much. This girl didn’t even have much, if anything to drink at the party, she was already drunk before she came. Letting her in at all was a risk management mistake from the start, as she probably should have been taken home by a friend or gotten help rather than attend another party. Of course, my brothers did what any decent human being would do and called her an ambulance. She ended up being okay, but we still paid the price. Even though we were not at fault for her getting as drunk as she did, we were charged with a year of social probation for serving alcohol at the party. Clearly this is the type of punishment the Beta Theta Pi brothers feared when they decided not to call an ambulance for Piazza. However, just because they made this horrible error in judgment does not mean you can generalize it to every fraternity in the nation.
The other reason banning Greek life is not the answer is because it would probably have more of a negative impact than positive. Let me explain. Fraternities recognized by universities have to abide by certain rules, and are regulated by student and school bodies. By banning Greek life, you would lose this. Sure, there wouldn’t be any official “fraternities,” but there would still be very similar underground organizations. These would basically be fraternities without the regulation of schools, allowing them to get away with much more when it comes to hazing, partying, etc. Even Zimmerman points to two cases of non-fraternity hazing incidents in his article, one with the Florida A&M marching band and the other with the Harvard men’s soccer team. Would banning fraternities from college campuses satisfy some outsiders who are outraged over the trouble some cause? Sure. But it would not help prevent another death like Timothy Piazza’s.
If getting rid of fraternities isn’t the answer, what is? It’s hard to say, but I think there are a few things that could help. First off, everyone in Greek life who would act the same way the Beta Theta Pi brothers did that night needs a reality check. Either do the right thing when someone needs help, or don’t be a part of Greek life. Fraternities are about brotherhood and having each other’s backs; if you wouldn’t make a simple phone call to save a brother’s (or pledge’s) life, you do not deserve to be a brother. Second, put more Good Samaritan laws in place, for college kids especially. Good Samaritan laws protect people who call help for those in need from any legal liability. This could help save lives, but ideally you’d rather prevent people from being in positions of needing saving at all. My final idea is to lower the drinking age from 21 to 19. If everyone could theoretically drink legally once they are in college, the need for drinking at private places such as fraternities becomes diminished. It’s much harder to drink past your limit at a bar than it is an off-campus party, fraternity or not.
None of these solutions would eliminate the risk for alcohol-related deaths, but they could certainly help. The only thing we can do is remember that if someone is in need of help, it’s our moral obligation to provide it for them. No amount of potential trouble is worth risking someone losing their life.