When he was on stage Friday to open the discussion of a consulting report on Greek Life at the University of Missouri, Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga pointed to recent issues at Penn State, Louisiana State and Florida State universities as examples to avoid.
“We don’t want that to happen on this campus and we want to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our Greek communities,” Zeilenga said.
At Penn State, a fraternity pledge died in February of traumatic brain injuries received while drinking heavily in a hazing incident. The school has taken responsibility for organization conduct away from student-run councils and imposed aggressive measures to control drinking and hazing.
At LSU, President F. King Alexander on Wednesday suspended two fraternities and had previously suspended two others since the death of a fraternity pledge during a September hazing incident where he was forced to drink grain alcohol. All sororities and fraternities are barred from having alcohol at social events through January.
And Florida State on Monday announced the indefinite suspension of all Greek activities following the death of a pledge at an off-campus drinking party and the discovery that a member of another was selling cocaine at the chapter house.
Left unmentioned by Zeilenga is that MU came dangerously close to having fraternity alcohol-hazing deaths several times in the fall of 2016. Brandon Zingale, a Kappa Alpha order pledge, had a blood alcohol level of 0.41 on Sept. 28, 2016, when he arrived at the Boone Hospital Center emergency room 10 hours after taking his last drink. Zingale, who left MU, is now suing the fraternity and its leaders for negligence.
It was the second alcohol-poisoning incident at Kappa Alpha within a month. By December 2016, there had been 16 such incidents in 16 months.
The Dyad Strategies report is an effort to avoid the harshest penalties imposed on all Greek organizations at some schools by studying what behavior leads to tragedy and stopping it, Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said Friday.
After hearing about the Florida State action, “our reaction was, I am happy that Gary Ward and his team started this review process last year to find out what’s working and what’s not,” Cartwright said.
There is no consideration being given to halting Greek organization activities, he said.
“There is no plan to do that right now,” he said. “There is not. I think what we want to do is use and benefit from all the positives. These are students active in the blood drive, they are active in homecoming, they help us with the leadership skills they gain, their connection with all of our alums. There are tremendous positive parts and we want to make sure we amplify all the positives and avoid any potential negatives.”
Dyad’s report recommends banning the practice of allowing freshmen to live in fraternity houses, stricter enforcement on the ban on hard alcohol and a disciplinary process with swift, sure punishment for violations such as allowing minors to drink. Almost all the 20 recommendations in the risk management section focused on fraternities who are members of the Interfraternity Council. They are the oldest Greek organizations on campus, dating from 1869 when only white males could attend MU.
Consultant Gentry McCreary also didn’t mention the MU incidents, either in his report or during the almost two-hour Friday town hall meeting about the report.
“That was not the tack I chose to take in having the conversation. I chose to use the high-profile incidents that everyone nationally is very familiar with,” he said. “Luckily, the incidents here at Missouri have not garnered national attention and that’s what folks want to avoid. I don’t think they need me to tell them about those things.”
Florida State, LSU and Penn State aren’t the only schools that have cracked down on fraternities. The University of Michigan’s Interfraternity Council took the lead Thursday night when it suspended all social events after allegations of multiple sexual assaults, hazing and several alcohol poisoning hospitalizations the weekend of the Michigan-Michigan State football game.
McCreary said he expects the schools to allow fraternities to resume activities.
“I think they are going to work with the students to look at a plan of action moving forward and they probably will end up doing a lot of things we are talking about here,” he said.
The IFC chapters know the heart of the report’s recommendations are for them to change, vice president for media relations Trevor Beshear said.
“The biggest thing on here is safety,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize the safety any of the members in our community or any of the communities.”
Whether stated explicitly or understood as the backdrop while discussing other universities, fraternities know their behavior is under scrutiny, Beshear said.
“I think the issues we have had here in the past are horrific incidents in and of themselves,” he said. “And the last thing we want do is have one of those instances happen again or something worse.”