By Faustino Galante
(Courtesy of Flickr)
On November 12th, 2014, West Virginia University freshman Nolan Burch was found unconscious after an initiation event for the school’s Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He was quickly rushed to the hospital where his blood alcohol level was measured at .493 percent. Two days later, Burch died of alcohol poisoning.
Being that Burch was an alumnus of my high school in Buffalo, New York, his death specifically hits close to home. In the wake of Burch’s tragic death, WVU suspended all Greek life on its campus and revoked Kappa Sigma’s charter.
Though many hoped that fraternities across the nation would clean up their acts after the death of Nolan Burch, this was not the case. Since the incident, various other fraternity related catastrophes have occurred. The most recent instance occurred just this past month.
On February 2, Penn State student Timothy Piazza was found dead in the University’s Beta Theta Pi house. Investigators claim that Piazza’s death was the result of an intoxicated fall down a basement stairwell at a fraternity party.
Speculations have surfaced over whether fraternity members are liable for his death. Not only have suppositions arisen that Piazza was hazed the night of his death, but even more unfortunate is the fact that an ambulance was not called to the scene until 12 hours after the student’s fall.
Penn State responded to Piazza’s death very aggressively. According to the school’s newspaper, the University has indefinitely suspended all Greek life activities, banned students from visiting Greek homes, indefinitely forbidden all-alcohol related social activities and stipulated that no “Greeks” can be present anywhere where more than 15 Greek life members of the same chapter are present.
A debate has now arisen over whether the University’s actions were reasonable. Many believe that the administration’s “punish the innocent” mentality is unwarranted. According to many students, the absence of Greek life has shattered much of PSU’s social scene. Others, though, have come to the school’s defense stating that this aggressive response is necessary.
In truth, the administration’s response was merited. By cracking down, the University has managed to maintain their public image, acknowledge the tragic death of Timothy Piazza and help demonstrate a zero tolerance policy for future fraternity misconduct.
Upholding public image is one of the main roles of a University’s administration. Over the years, PSU has not had an easy time doing so. Various humiliations, such as the Jerry Sandusky scandal, have tarnished Penn State’s reputation. A death such as Timothy Piazza’s has the potential to be detrimental to the University.
Without having taken proper action, it is possible that parents may have become weary of sending their kids to a “dangerous party school.” The University could have lost its academic reputation simply for being associated with such a catastrophe. Alumni may have also become reluctant to donate to the school if proper measures were not taken to clear up this situation. The school’s response to the tragedy helped spur positive damage control.
Timothy Piazza was a sophomore at the time of his death. His friends characterized him as a person who, “just loved making people smile and be happy.” According to some investigators, his death could have been prevented. In regards to Piazza’s remembrance, it seems reasonable for the University to demonstrate deep concern for the student’s death. By holding Greek life on campus accountable, the University does just that.
Penn State University, in closing down all Greek life, sets a tone for future Greek activity. The college has demonstrated to students that a zero tolerance policy will be enacted to any cases like Piazza’s. Going forward, one can only hope that after this tragedy, students at Penn State and across the United States, will be more cautious in their endeavors. Hopefully, other colleges in America will learn from PSU and use aggressive measures to eliminate social wrongdoings such as the one which occurred last week.