Prosecutors filed criminal charges on Friday against 18 Penn State students in the death of a 19-year-old student. Timothy Piazza, college sophomore, died after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol and suffering internal injuries after a fraternity hazing.
According to the New York Times, this case shows that prosecutors have started taking a tougher stance when initiation rituals end in death or physical abuse. At Baruch College, Northern Illinois University and Fresno State University, fraternity hazing deaths that used to be labeled regrettable accidents have been resulting in criminal charges against students.
“Go back a generation or two, and hazing was accepted conduct, part of the fraternity experience, part of the football experience,” David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told the New York Times. “Now it’s no longer ‘boys will be boys, and why is the prosecutor getting involved in this?’ I think there is much more acceptance out there that this is unlawful behavior.”
The report stated that in addition to legal charges, colleges and universities have also taken a tougher stance in such cases, at least outwardly. Universities have shut down hundreds of offending fraternity chapters, and some schools have prohibited freshman-year pledging. Some schools, according to the report, have A smaller number even withdrawn formal recognition of all Greek-letter groups, making them operate off campus and without any official ties.
“This is a huge challenge because we don’t own the houses, we don’t own the property, we aren’t the national” organization governing fraternities, Penn State’s president, Eric Barron, told the New York Times on Monday.
There are no figures kept by the government or higher education groups of hazing incidents and student deaths. Often, individual schools and fraternities resist sharing such data. But in 2013, according to the report, Bloomberg News documented more than 60 deaths over eight years in fraternity activities.
The Penn State prosecution is one of the largest ever brought in a fraternity misconduct case.