In a scathing letter to the Penn State Board of Trustees, the parents of a university sophomore who died in February after falling several times during a fraternity hazing party while profoundly intoxicated excoriated university officials for their part in their son’s death.
In the letter, which is dated May 31, James and Evelyn Piazza appealed to administrators to fulfill their obligation to look after students and reject what they say is a culture of denial and complacency.
“You, the [Board of Trustees], have a significant obligation to do the right things, not the popular things to appease a small group of alumni who still do not get it, to make Greek Life and all life safer at Penn State,” James and Evelyn Piazza wrote in the letter, which is dated May 31.
“Our son died on your watch because of ignorance and denial by Penn State. Yes, he died at the hands of Men who had no regard for human life, but that behavior was fostered and accepted at Penn State for a long time.”
Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old pledge at Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi, died after drinking a “life threatening” amount of alcohol and falling down the stairs. It took hours for members of the fraternity to call 911, and when they did it was too late. Authorities have criminally charged 18 members of the fraternity, among the charges conspiracy to cover up their involvement.
A grand jury report found that Timothy Piazza died as a direct result of the extremely reckless conduct of members of the fraternity “who operated within the permissive atmosphere fostered by the Pennsylvania State University Interfraternity Council”.
Gallery: Results of Penn State fraternity death investigation
In their letter, Piazza’s parents blast the university for what they said was the enabling of a long history of harsh hazing, excessive drinking and sexual assaults in its Greek system.
“Penn State also has a long history of looking the other way at difficult situations,” the Piazzas wrote in their letter. “This must stop and all those who are part of turning a blind eye must be held accountable, just as the individuals who committed the crimes and recklessness should be held accountable.”
An attorney representing the Piazzas, who live in Lebanon, New Jersey, said they have been assured that their letter will be presented to the Board of Trustees when they convene Friday to discuss a course of action for the Greek system.
Penn State trustees are meeting to consider new student safety measures that president Eric Barron said “will depart drastically from measures commonly employed at institutions nationwide.”
Barron has signaled willingness to dismantle the system in the wake of persistent violations of regulations put in place in after Piazza’s death. He is scheduled to make an announcement on Friday.
In their letter, the Piazzas state they are not trying to dismantle Greek life at Penn State but to ensure the safety of all students.
“Greek Life at Penn State is broken and must be fixed,” they write. “You have an obligation to either fix it or admit that you cannot make it work.”
The Piazzas outline more than a dozen recommendations they say must be implemented to ensure the university safeguard the welfare and lives of all students.
Among their recommendations, the Piazzas appeal to the university to help advocate for
- reform to hazing legislation; advocating for stricter statutes and extending those statutes possibly up to 10 years;
- A broader Good Samaritan Law that would give an individual the ability to confidently call for help without risk of getting in trouble and the victim not getting in trouble.
They also call for stricter policies and procedures in oversight of fraternities and sororities.
These policies and procedures should include:
- A ban on hazing; defining hazing laws as rigorously as state and federal laws;
- The expulsion of anyone who fails to promptly report hazing;
- Stringent alcohol policies that call for the expulsion of anyone providing minors with alcohol;
- Implementing spot checks on fraternities;
- Immediate suspension of fraternities that violates the code of conduct.
In addition, the Piazzas call for the expulsion of any students who, they say, the university knows to be culpable in their son’s death. They refer to a video obtained by authorities that lays out the events of the night leading to their son’s lethal injuries.
“Many of the responsible students are clearly identifiable. Inaction against the students is hypocritical,” they wrote. “I realize some of the students are children of alumni and prominent business figures in Pa., but they committed serious crimes [many of them committed these same crimes for years] and it is on video. What are you waiting for? It is time to act.”
They also call for the termination of any administrator “who turned a blind eye to the issues in Greek Life,” including Damon Sims and Tim Bream. The letter lived in the fraternity house as adviser and was present on the night of the hazing event.
Sims, the Vice President for Student Affairs, has played a key role in the sanctions placed on Greek life in the wake of Piazza’s death.
“He knew about the problems. He led the Task Force which by its own admission was ineffective,” the Piazzas wrote.
They said the recommendations are only a starting point for them.
“Once again, our son died on your watch,” the Piazzas wrote. “We will never see him again because of the administration’s failures to protect him and turning a blind eye to known problems. You now have an obligation to make the appropriate statements and changes to make sure this never happens again. The world is watching. Take the lead and do the right thing!”