Pennsylvania State University is creating a center to study Greek life, named in memory of a student who died after a fraternity event.
Tim Piazza was a sophomore when he joined Beta Theta Pi at Penn State in February 2017. He died after a pledging event at the chapter house. Police said his friends failed to call for help when he fell multiple times after consuming toxic amounts of alcohol. His death reverberated nationally, one of several fatal incidents in recent years that brought renewed attention to the dangers of alcohol and hazing at fraternities — and intensified demand for change.
Universities have been missing critical information about Greek life, Penn State’s president, Eric J. Barron, said in a statement. The interdisciplinary center can help provide nationwide assessments and information about how to improve fraternity and sorority culture and rules, he said. “The Piazza Center will provide an essential leadership role to compel the collective change required.”
The university has promised $2 million for the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform and an additional $3 million to match private funds raised, in hopes of establishing an $8 million endowment. The Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research, which has operated at Indiana University at Bloomington since 1979, is transferring its operations to Penn State. The Piazza Center will build on that legacy, according to Penn State officials.
Kaye Schendel, president of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research, said Penn State’s plans will fulfill the center’s vision. “There finally will be the resources necessary to get real answers to these difficult questions,” Schendel said.
Penn State made changes to Greek life on campus following Piazza’s death, and other national initiatives have begun. This fall, several grieving parents — including the Piazzas — joined with fraternity leaders in an effort to combat hazing. In September, hard alcohol will be banned from the more than 6,100 chapters of the North American Interfraternity Conference.
“We are pleased that Penn State is taking the lead in Greek-life reforms and cultural change with the creation of the Piazza Center as we approach the two-year anniversary of the death of our son Tim, as a result of the reckless and irresponsible behavior of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity,” Jim Piazza, Tim Piazza’s father, said in a statement. He said the family is also grateful that Barron has followed through on his commitment to make meaningful, positive change and to enhance transparency to protect students who choose to join fraternities and sororities at Penn State and other colleges.
The Piazza Center will develop and maintain a scorecard to help students and parents evaluate chapters' behavior, in addition to studying Greek life and spurring national conversations about ways to improve safety.