The Fate Of Fraternity: We All Are Penn State

An awful lot of people are asking an awful lot of hard questions as the aftermath of Timothy Piazza's death at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Pennsylvania State University makes its way through the courts, the media, and our collective social media news feeds.

Although many of those are focusing in on Beta Theta Pi, Penn State, or both, the ugly truth is that this incident is on all of us.

Every. One. Of. Us.

If you think this could never happen at your chapter or on your campus, I cheerfully invite you to GTFO. Because you are next.

This latest in a long line of hazing deaths has shaken me to my very core. The alumni, the chapter, the university, etc. employed every best practice in the hazing prevention playbook: Alcohol-free housing? Check. Live-in advisor? Check. Excellent educational programs? Check. Security cameras? Check and mate.

But they were not enough. If it were possible to create a physical environment that was hazing-proof, I can't imagine one any stronger than the one at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State University.

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And that is what has shaken me to my very core.

The ugly truth is that there is no room for "set it and forget it" in the interfraternal world. If we as concerned advisors, alumni, headquarters staff, and most of all, members are not actively, intimately, and thoroughly engaged in our organizations, we have a responsibility to shut them down.

This is not a question.

We do not have room for debate, doubt, or error.

We must shut them down.

In a letter released by the North-American Interfraternity Conference today, Judson Horras, NIC President & CEO, outlines the combustible formula that exists in every fraternity on every campus:

  • Existence of dangerous traditions
  • History of substance abuse and hazing in high school
  • Proliferation of media glorifying substance abuse and hazing
  • Self-preservation in the threat of severe consequences
  • Technology that disrupts traditional forms of authority and accountability
  • Culture of instant gratification and self-indulgence
  • Lack of openness and transparency

There are no easy answers here. There is no policy, no proclamation, no product, no program, and no protocol that is going to make fraternity viable in the 2017 and into the future. 

There is only resolve.

We cannot curb what our newest members are bringing to our organizations, whether through their own experiences or the expectations fomented by mass and social media.

But we can intervene early and often when they arrive. We can create meaningful, yet challenging, rites of passage. We can instill the moral courage and efficacy that not only protects our members and guests, but powers the future of our communities in increasingly turbulent times.

We either commit to the work, or ensure our demise. There is no middle ground.