According to court records and testimony, the 19-year-old consumed 18 drinks in 82 minutes during a campus fraternity’s hazing rituals and later died as a result of a traumatic brain injury after falling down the stairs. Members of the fraternity waited 12 hours to call an ambulance. Now, nearly two years after Piazza’s passing, many say his death has led to key changes in state legislatures and in the college fraternity and sorority community.
Four families that lost their sons to fraternity hazing, including Timothy’s parents, began working with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. Those two groups represent more than 90 fraternities and sororities in the U.S., and together they have formed an anti-hazing coalition and now share a common goal: to pass legislation that would increase criminal penalties for hazing, and to increase education and awareness on college campuses.
Rich Braham is another parent who’s traveled to colleges and universities across the country to support the mission. Braham’s 18-year-old son, Marquise, committed suicide back in 2014, and the family strongly believes it was because of alleged hazing while at Penn State Altoona. The case never resulted in criminal charges so the Braham family filed a civil lawsuit against Penn State as well as the Phi Sigma Kappa frat.
The fraternity’s national leadership objected to the suit’s allegations in a statement last year, saying that “Marquise’s tragic suicide had nothing to do with his involvement with the fraternity.” In a statement, Penn State “disputes the family’s characterization of these matters,” but later said, “Penn State Altoona looks forward to working with the Braham family in educating parents of prospective Greek life members.” The Braham family has reached settlements with all of the defendants in that case.
This new coalition of parents harks back to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaign of the 1980s. When Candace Lightner started MADD, four days after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, public health professionals considered drunk driving to be the No. 1 killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24.
MADD’s efforts helped reduce the number of fatalities related to drunk driving and changed public perception of driving while intoxicated. Now, the parents in the anti-hazing coalition want to achieve those same results with respect to dangerous pledging rituals, and they’ve made some strides on campus and with policy.
In August, the North American Interfraternity Conference declared a ban on hard alcohol beginning in September 2019. Under the policy, hard liquor will still be allowed if it is served by a licensed third-party vendor.
However, no new policy is ever going to be better than its means of implementation. Virtually everything the fraternity industry does relies on 18 and 19-year-old men to implement it and make life and death decisions.
In October, the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law was signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. It gives tougher penalties for hazing, making it a felony if it results in death or serious injury.
However, hazing charges are still a misdemeanor in Ohio. Ohio’s hazing law makes it a crime to
participate or coerce someone else to participate in “any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.” But that does little to stop hazing in Ohio, where fraternity brothers at Ohio University whipped their pledges with belts, pelted them with eggs and forced them to chug a large bottle of vodka in less than an hour at what was called “Blackout Monday.”
Hazing incidents on Ohio campuses continue to regularly made headlines, including the Nov. 12 death of Ohio University freshman Collin Wiant, who died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion. According to a toxicology report. He was found surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including canisters of nitrous oxide, also known as “whippets.”
Ohio State’s list of fraternity and sorority disciplinary history shows there were at least 16 other hazing violations among Greek chapters at Ohio State over the past five years. Of those, five resulted in chapter suspensions with the rest ending in probation.
Whatever the hazing ritual, it seems despite the dangers, Greek societies are determined to keep the ritual alive.