Editorial: Penn State’s fraternity report card is a step forward, other universities must participate


Marek Slusarczyk/Dreamstime/TNS

Pennsylvania State University’s College Hall.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

It’s not just students who are being graded anymore.

Penn State announced last week that it will soon release the first-ever fraternity report card, through which national fraternities and sororities will receive a report highlighting their good actions, such as public service hours and their bad actions — like hazing, sexual misconduct violations and alcohol violations. The university reached out to more than 400 colleges for data in order to compile the various reports, but only 55 fulfilled their request, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This lack of response is deeply problematic.

Though Penn State has been under deep scrutiny after a hazing scandal in 2017 that resulted in the death of student Timothy Piazza, it isn’t the sole university responsible for the deep systematic failures of Greek life. In order for the system to be fixed, we need a holistic picture of the Greek life scene from as many different universities as possible. The colleges that did not provide data are failing the safety of their students, and possibly other students nationally.

There were three fraternity deaths just this week at three different universities — San Diego State, Washington State and Arizona State. There have been more than 77 fraternity related deaths since 2005, according to CNN. And though death is the most serious of problems, many Greek organizations have hazing issues that need to be addressed in order to prevent these instances.

Three Pitt Greek life organizations are currently on restriction of privileges due to hazing probes. Pitt previously placed all Greek organizations on probation in late 2018 following a slew of alcohol and hazing-related offenses. And Pitt isn’t a black sheep. Almost all campuses have hazing problems in one way or another. Pitt, however, did disclose data to Penn State for the report card. Not many other universities can say the same.

Additional concerns in Greek life include general alcohol consumption among members. A Harvard University study found that about four out of five sorority and fraternity members are binge drinkers, compared to about two in five students in the average population who are binge drinkers. Statistics such as these suggest a higher level of alcohol-related accidents in Greek organizations, even if they don’t result in death. A comprehensive report would likely help students curb alcohol-related accidents, and help universities find a way to monitor and prevent them, too.

After investigating its own Greek organizations, Penn State said earlier this fall that it felt its new safety measures — which include more intense monitoring of Greek life parties — are yielding positive results. The report card is supposed to help cultivate the same change in other colleges, but if universities refuse to give data to the report, it won’t be possible to get an accurate idea of how to improve upon these issues.

Overseeing the report card project is Steve Veldkamp, president of the Piazza foundation, who noted the lack of feedback on the survey.

“We had a lot of folks that were interested in participating, but not many that wanted to share the data,” Veldkamp said. “We’ve had to continue to push this important topic … at campuses across the country.”

Veldkamp noted that some schools declined to participate in the report due to leadership transition and uncertainty about their authority to release the data, but many chose not to release data because they were concerned their institution would be embarrassed. When it’s students’ safety on the line, embarrassment should be pushed aside.