Editorial: Piazza settlement shows frats, parents, universities have to work together
When Timothy Piazza fell down a set of basement steps at a frat party in February 2017, something changed whether anyone knew it yet or not.
Tim, 19, a Penn State student from New Jersey, died after being put through a gauntlet where he consumed 18 drinks in 90 minutes, sustained multiple falls, suffered a broken skull and internal bleeding, and went 12 hours with none of his “brothers” calling for an ambulance. Tim died. Jim and Evelyn Piazza’s commitment to sweeping change was born.
On Tuesday, the Piazzas announced that a settlement was reached with Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity Tim was pledging, the fraternity Penn State President Eric Barron said he would have called a model for others just the day before Tim’s fall.
In January, the Piazzas said there was nothing Beta Theta Pi could give them that would make them whole again.
“Even in my dreams, I know he’s gone,” Evelyn said.
The monetary amount of the settlement is undisclosed, but the family and their attorney, Tom Kline, focused on more targeted concessions: support for changes to Pennsylvania anti-hazing law ; accountability measures; a 17-point plan to “establish a baseline for a new norm” in fraternities.
The Piazzas want to address things that will keep the all-too-large club of parents whose children have died in hazing incidents from growing. They want to make the loss of their red-headed boy who wanted to make prostheses for kids have some kind of meaning.
That is admirable and laudable. It might also be futile, and not just because college kids drink, and drink a lot and do dumb things when they are drunk.
It might be a lost cause because of the hazing-steeped, alcohol-soaked culture of frat life.
The now-banned Penn State chapter was already supposed to be dry. It was filled with surveillance cameras after a massive remodel undertaken while the doors were closed because of a previous suspension for alcohol violations.
A court case in Centre County between the man who provided the money and the group who owns the building shows that not only has the building been used for Penn State football weekends and other gatherings, but one alumni has brought and served alcohol in the same basement where Tim fell and started the slow, painful process of dying.
And it’s not just a Penn State issue or a Beta Theta Pi problem, and we have to be sure not to look at it that way because that makes it someone else’s responsibility and it’s not.
This is a college problem, a parent problem, a fraternity problem, a student problem, an alumni problem, a community problem, a state problem, and — based on the fact that no matter how much attention it gets, students keep drinking, hazing and dying — a national problem. Everyone needs to accept it and address it.
Every time a fraternity is caught in bad behavior, well-groomed young men in suits and ties show up for court and look contritely at the judge, while a lawyer talks about how they are just kids. Then the house gets a fine that amounts to about $5 per person when you spread it over a good party and they all get an hour of community service.
These “kids” are old enough to understand the law. Maybe that would be easier for them to understand if people didn’t dismiss it as no big deal until someone gets hurt, because history tells us someone will get hurt.
It has to change.
The Piazzas might not have gotten everything they wanted. They might have demanded everything they could. But it seems like they are going to keep shouting Tim’s name to draw attention to what other people are ignoring as long as they have breath to do so.