Penn State launching national database to help evaluate Greek organizations after hazing death

FILE – This Nov. 9, 2017, file photo shows Pennsylvania State University's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa. Centre County, Pa.,(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE – This Nov. 9, 2017, file photo shows Pennsylvania State University's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa. Centre County, Pa.,(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Penn State University is launching a national database that will monitor Greek fraternities and sororities.

The scorecard will include grade point averages, sexual assaults, alcohol and hazing violations, and community service hours.

The university has been in the national spotlight since the hazing death of 19-year-old student Timothy Piazza during an alcohol-fueled fraternity party last year.

At a New York Times Higher Ed leaders forum last month, Barron said university collaboration can be a powerful tool.

“I can imagine that if I had a national organization that was really a bad actor and they knew the presidents across this nation were going to look at them and say, ‘You know what? You don’t belong on our campuses if you can’t help us do the right thing,’ ” he said of national Greek-letter organizations.

Barron said the scorecard would also allow parents to make informed decisions about Greek chapters.

Both umbrella organizations that oversee fraternities and sororities say they support the transparent nature of the project, but find the focus on Greek organizations too narrow.

“We’ve long said that the battle against hazing is not one for fraternities or sororities alone, but requires action from all campus-based organizations,” Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, the largest umbrella organization of sororities, said via email.

“Issues like hazing and substance abuse impact every facet of campus life and all organizations must be held to a consistent standard,” said Heather Kirk in an emailed statement. Kirk is chief communication officer at the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which represents more than 65 national fraternities.

“This is why NIC supports transparent reporting on all student organizations, from fraternities to athletic teams to the marching band,” she said. “We hope the database creators rightly broaden their focus to better analyze problems that exist across campus culture.”

Penn State instituted new measures for its Greek organizations at the beginning of the year, including shifting the disciplinary process to be under the university’s purview, rather than Greek council organizations.

It also continued its Greek Scorecard, which is being used as a model for the national database.

The idea for the collaborative tool got started when the university sponsored the “Fraternities and Sororities: What Next” conference, along with the universities of Iowa and Nebraska–Lincoln, at the Big Ten Conference headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois in April. More than 30 universities attended the two-day event and discussed issues and brainstormed solutions around Greek life challenges.

In May, Barron and Jim Piazza, father of Timothy Piazza, penned a Washington Post op-ed calling for a national database to help provide more transparency and evaluation of Greek organizations.

“The scorecard alone will not effect a change in behavior though,” Piazza said in the op-ed. “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.”

To help grow support for the database across higher education, Barron and the presidents of Louisiana State and Florida State universities requested a discussion at an Association of Public and Land-grant Universities gathering.

Those three universities have all recently dealt with the loss of students to hazing-related deaths.

The database is also expected to include best practices, research, state-by-state legislative action, and federal anti-hazing efforts.

Penn State will host the database initially. The resource is still in the early stages, and the school will begin looking for other universities to join in the fall.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman sponsored a new anti-hazing bill named after Timothy Piazza.

Jennifer Kocher, Corman’s director of communications, says it would give more leeway in prosecuting some hazing incidents as a more serious crime.

“At this point, hazing is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, it doesn’t matter if someone dies or not,” she said. “It’s something where we want to be able to see this tiered level so that there are consequences for particular actions, especially if they result in an injury.”

The bill has passed the Pennsylvania Senate and is under consideration by the House.

Kocher says the new database will be a helpful resource for students and families.

“It’s something that they can then evaluate what their goals are, what they want to get out of belonging to such an organization against if the organization has any violations or if they don’t have any violations,” she said.

She says the anti-hazing bill includes a statewide registry for all college organizations — including Greek and other organizations and clubs.

The first defendant charged in Piazza’s death is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday.

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