The parents of the 19-year-old Penn State University student who died after an alcohol-fueled pledge event in February want the school to either fix the "broken" Greek system or admit it can't — and implement several new measures in response.
In a letter sent to the school's Board of Trustees ahead of its Friday meeting, James and Evelyn Piazza stopped short of demanding Penn State bar fraternities and sororities altogether, suggesting instead that they would leave that up to others.
"Let us be clear, we are not trying to kill Greek life at Penn State. That is for someone else to decide, the BOT perhaps," the Piazzas wrote Thursday. "Our mission is to make it safer, to the extent Greek Life continues, so families no longer have to worry about their child coming home, being hurt or being sexually assaulted. Greek Life at Penn State is broken and must be fixed."
The Greek system on the State College campus has faced intense scrutiny after sophomore engineering major Timothy Piazza suffered a fatal fall at the Beta Theta Pi house. Fraternity members failed to call 911 for almost 12 hours, prosecutors allege.
The Piazzas said they want Penn State to back them up on a number of proposals. Those include:
- Supporting their push to get anti-hazing legislation passed state and nationwide, including criminal penalties for those who fail to report such incidents.
- Introducing stricter policies at the school, including no hazing, no alcohol to underage students, and requiring all Greek members and pledges attend a safety orientation.
- Expelling students who had "culpability" in their son's death.
- Firing the administrators who "turned a blind eye" to the problems within Greek life.
- Firing Tim Bream, the head trainer for the Penn State football program who lived in the Beta fraternity house as their adviser.
"Our son died on your watch," the Piazzas wrote to the board. "We will never see him again because of the Administrations failures to protect him and turning a blind eye to known problems."
Eighteen Beta brothers are currently facing criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. The aggravated assault counts — a first-degree felony — carry a maximum prison term of 10 years to 20 years.
The brothers have not commented after their initial court appearances and another preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 12 for them and the fraternity corporation itself.
Surveillance cameras captured some of the chaos during the Feb. 2 pledge event, when Piazza tumbled head first down 15 basement steps following a night of heavy drinking, according to authorities. The brothers could be seen and heard deciding what to do — and failing to render appropriate aid, prosecutors said. Some of them allegedly physically assaulted Piazza in order to get him to regain consciousness.
Penn State shut down the Beta chapter permanently after an investigation, and the Beta Theta Pi International Fraternity suspended the group. The international's leaders said they have "clearly and consistently expressed its position that it does not tolerate hazing or alcohol abuse."
In a response to the Piazzas' letter, Penn State officials responded Friday that their son's death was "a horrific tragedy and our focus is on reaching solutions to the complex issues of hazing, dangerous drinking and other misconduct that plague fraternities here and around the country."
Since he died, the school implemented several changes on campus, including monitoring at social events to prevent underage and excessive drinking and probation and immediate revocation of a Greek-letter chapter's status if rules are violated.