Is Greek Life At Risk?

Time May Be Ticking For Greek Organizations
 Time May Be Ticking For Greek Organizations

While fraternities and sororities often make national headlines, it’s usually a one-off case. A fraternity may have been suspended for alleged hazing, a sorority raised a record amount of philanthropic funding. Another week, you might see a sorority member resigns after being accused of racial slurs, or a fraternity member suffers a tragic and ill-fated accident.

More often than not, the news is not positive.

Recently, however, Greek life is making national headlines on a broader scale, as leaders from Penn State and more than 30 other institutions convened last month to discuss how societal and cultural issues with Greek life should be handled, and more specifically, how they can better address dangerous behaviors on a local level.

There was an overarching consensus that university and Greek organization leaders across America needed to collaborate to create a database that would encourage chapters to live by their missions and ideals, initiate cultural changes, and improve the well-being of all of its members.

And no one better to speak on the issue than Eric Barron, the president of Pennsylvania State University, and Jim Piazza, the father of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old pledge member who died last year after a fraternity bid party at Penn State.

Piazza’s story has been in the news for over a year now, a tragic story of a pledge who fell down stairs at a Penn State fraternity, and for nearly 12 hours, police say, no one called for help. Now that even greater national attention has been brought to the issue, is it finally time for a change? And how feasibly can great change occur from the top down — from national Greek leaders to rush week sorority pledges who eagerly groom themselves as they nervously await their collegiate Greek fate? From university presidents to senior fraternity members who want to make sure that new pledges are resilient and loyal?

The answer to that question has yet to be seen, but given the attention that was given to the dialogue between Barron and Piazza, the number of institutions present, and the urgency of the situation, we think a solution cannot wait much longer. According to Jim Piazza: 

“With no national clearinghouse, we are missing a comprehensive understanding. However, momentum is starting to grow among university leaders across America to join forces in a concerted effort to create a national database that we hope will encourage these organizations to fulfill their own stated ideals, improve safety and spark needed cultural changes.”

Barron's response was a solution comes in the form of a national scorecard. A scorecard would share both positive and negative information about chapters, charting educational outcomes, records of negative behavior as well as positive contributions. It would provide an early warning system if behavior slips, and more importantly, it would demonstrate whether national Greek organizations are providing the leadership to help universities stop dangerous behaviors in local chapters.

But will it actually work?

Piazza said no. Along with more meaningful anti-hazing laws in each state, Piazza warned that more than a scorecard would be needed.

“The scorecard alone will not effect a change in behavior though. Universities need to redefine their relationship with Greek life and must take on greater oversight. National Greek organizations must put in place firm and strict rules and guidelines and then enforce them.”

Either way, the scorecard or “national database” itself is more of a solution brought forward than any we’ve seen from a singular university yet — and it’s worth a shot. readers: What do you think? What changes need to be made from national leaders and organizations to local chapters?

Comment in your school’s discussion forum!



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