Up close and personal with the faults in the system
By Alexis Morillo, Upfront Editor
I don’t know why, but sometimes when I remember really big moments in my life I see them from a bird’s eye view. I watch myself from the outside. Maybe I do this as a defense mechanism to remove myself from the emotion of it all, and maybe I’m not alone in this. It is what it is.
When I remember February 4th of this year, I see myself brushing my teeth and looking down at my phone to see a text message I never, ever thought I would receive, from my best friend Kaitlyn.
Hey guys I never thought I would have to say this and I’m shaking as I type this but Tim passed away this morning.
In that moment I felt every single emotion I’ve ever known, while simultaneously feeling nothing at all. I fell to my knees on the cold tile of a dorm bathroom.
Death is something that I always thought of as the culmination of a life. It happens when you’re old, ailing, when you have so many life stories to tell and when you’re surrounded by all of the people you love – a spouse, children, grandchildren. Death isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 19 and just beginning your life. Death isn’t supposed to happen as a result of neglect. And yet it did. On February 4, I lost a friend, my best friend lost her boyfriend, a family lost a son, brother, nephew, grandson. All of these things were lost because of a hazing related incident.
Now, I will address my bias loud and clear and say that I never got the point of greek life. There is just something about the culture that seems very elitist to me. Ithaca College being without affiliated greek life was one of the things I liked about it most when I first visited. Many of my closest friends are involved in greek organizations and I have seen firsthand how rewarding being a part of such a group can be, but it isn’t something that has ever really appealed to me. I’m not saying I hate all greek organizations; I just recognize that many systems at colleges and universities are flawed when it comes to the rules and regulations sororities and fraternities have to follow.
The flawed greek life systems I have mentioned are the same systems that allow for negative situations to be overshadowed in favor of the positive things that greek life brings— philanthropy and volunteer work, money, to the school through rushing deposits, and the works. But do the contributions of fraternities outweigh the fact that fraternity members 300 percent more likely to commit rape than other college aged males — a demographic that is already likely to be perpetrators?
And yet for some reason hazing incidents are still so surprising to us when they make national news. At the time of writing this piece, I typed into Google’s search bar the sole word “hazing” and a story came up from from just a few weeks ago. Another incident had occurred, this time at Central Michigan University, where a student with a severe peanut allergy was covered in peanut butter as a hazing ritual. Stories like these are constantly changing shape and form, but all speak to the immense issue that exists within greek life culture at some schools.
I don’t think hazing always occurs with malicious intent. Not all fraternity brothers are rapists, not all fraternity members are bullies or assailants. But giving the majority of these people the benefit of the doubt still does not answer a question I have been reiterating in my head since February 4. Why was a 19-year-old pledge that just wanted to be a part of a brotherhood left on a couch for 12 whole hours after being forced to consume alcohol before someone called an ambulance, after it was already too late?
As I feel a mix of grief and anger and confusion, I struggle with the decision of where to place my blame. Is it the individual’s fault or the leadership of the fraternity for encouraging reckless behavior? Is it the responsibility of the school to put preventative measures into place?
The investigation relating to the death of my friend is ongoing, therefore I am left with a multitude of questions unanswered at the moment and probably for the rest of my life. But I have seen first hand the hurt that results from tragedies like this, which makes it all the more upsetting when I see students pushing back against their school’s response.
Penn State, where Tim went to school, is notorious for being a party school and their greek life regulations were relatively lenient in comparison to schools of similar size. In a letter penned, after Tim’s death, to the campus community by Damon Sims, vice president of student affairs, he outlined a series of new rules that are taking effect immediately. Some of these rules include a delay of fall rush until the spring of the upcoming academic year, no alcohol may be served to underaged members at the organization houses, only wine and beer allowed to be served to members of age, no kegs allowed at events, no more than 10 socials with alcohol per semester will be permitted for each chapter (the previous limit was 45) and a no-tolerance policy for hazing. Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity that Tim was pledging, is indefinitely banned and all brothers had to move out of the house for the remainder of the academic year.
As a student at a school with no greek life, these rules seem quite easy to follow. And yet, when I log on to Facebook or Twitter, the backlash from Penn State students (some of whom went to my high school and knew Tim) makes it seem like their greek organizations will never be the same. In the initial announcement of the new regulations, it was stated that if they are not followed, more rules will be put into place. And in fact, just a few weeks after the initial rules were announced, nine out of the 82 greek organizations broke them and hosted a social event involving alcohol —during parent’s weekend. Penn State President Barron responded to this incident on his blog and said that loopholes were found (alcohol was served on upper levels in greek houses as to not be seen by those on patrol). Barron even noted that parents themselves were clearly intoxicated. This incident is one of many that shows the disconnect between the Penn State greek life and the administrators.
Not to mention the day that the initial rules were released a “protest” was organized to speak out against the new parameters set by the administration. The Facebook event’s description read: “Not only do these restrictions [sic]destroy the entire culture that is greek life, but they may possibly destroy our reputation as Happy Valley. These restrictions may deter enrollment to Penn State, and I would hate to see this amazing university, with some of the best academics and alumni network in the world, go to waste,” according to OnwardState.com.
I struggle to read this description and not nearly laugh at the ignorance that went into typing it. Is the “culture” of greek life centralized around hard liquor and up to three alcohol serving social events per week? If delaying fall rush and taking away hard liquor, kegs and day long parties will deter people from enrollment, maybe people aren’t enrolling at Penn State for the right reasons to begin with.
The culture of greek life has become so warped over the years that I think people seem to forget that the origin of greek organizations is not in dingy basement parties with plastic handles of hard liquor. According to Appalachian State University’s webpage dedicated to the history of greek life, “In the mid to late nineteenth century, students began forming their own groups to debate and discuss current events and literature. This was largely a reaction toward the strict curriculum set forth by their colleges.” And that’s how greek life started.
This web page goes on to say that members inevitably formed stronger bonds that lead to the more social aspect of greek organizations that are almost synonymous with this culture today. But nowhere does it say that the culture of greek life was based on alcohol and partying.
These rules should not destroy the culture of greek life, rather, it should allow fraternity brothers and sorority sisters to reflect on their organizations and recognize their strengths and weaknesses. As a campus community, they need to do better and hold each other accountable rather than team up to fight against the minimal restrictions the administration has put together. Due to their noncompliance, President Barron has threatened taking greek life away completely.
The most frustrating thing for me as someone that has an emotional stake in the situation is to see just how blind people can become because of their personal affiliation with a fraternity or a sorority. I’ve seen this with the individuals from my own high school that are current Penn State students (some of which even attended Tim’s wake), who share articles promoting a “Save Penn State Greek Life!” narrative rather than recognizing the faults that exist within the system.
My friend wanted to so desperately be a part of something bigger than himself, but the system itself failed him. The restrictions being put on greek organizations are not just in response to this, but are the long-awaited response to so many of the problems that have occurred at Penn State over the years including but not limited to various hazing and sexual assault allegations. Someone lost their life and unfortunately that’s what it ultimately took for change to be enacted. It would be irresponsible for the administration to sit back and watch these things occur. But it is even more irresponsible of the student body to reject the restrictions rather than to learn to adapt to them.
Alexis Morillo is a second year journalism major who wants people, no matter their greek life affiliation, to do better. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.