Binge-drinking hazing killed their son. We can put a stop to it
Is it time to end fraternities?
Given the image of underage drinking, hazing and general chaos typically associated with fraternity life on college campuses, it's a fair question. The seriousness of the question is underscored by the death of Timothy Piazza.
Tim was an engineering student and, according to his mom and dad, just a good kid who stayed out of trouble. He was 19 years old and pledging a fraternity as a sophomore at Penn State when he tragically died.
I spoke to his mom and dad, Evelyn and Jim, on the show along with state Sen. Kip Bateman, who is pushing new legislation that will increase the penalties for hazing, an all-too-common ritual to push pledges to the limit of their physical and mental capacities.
It's hard to be a parent and wrap your head around what the Piazzas have gone through since Tim died in February 2017. It's even harder to understand the senseless nature of his death. Being pushed to consume alcohol at a level that incapacitated him. Then badly injuring his head and being left to die. His mom described the video of Tim, trying desperately to leave the party but clearly his injury and alcohol consumption made that impossible. Without a call to 911, his life would end later that day.
So what do we do? At least one caller talked about the personal responsibility of pushing back on hazing and peer pressure. OK, fair point, but clearly there was a lot more happening here. The mind of college kids stepping up to belong and prove their worth cannot be dismissed. The fact that their brains are still developing -- in some until they are 25 years old -- factors in as well.
One solution is to have a lower drinking age more reflective of the culture in Europe, where you don't see the kind of binge drinking as we see in the U.S. as an accepted part of college life.
The comparison is often that 18 year olds are allowed to join the military but not allowed to drink. Another fair point. That lead to the discussion that the difference is in the military "kids" are trained to survive and support each other. Not so much in college. And when it comes to fraternity hazing, at least in the Penn State example, not at all.
I used the example of trust -- like the corporate retreat exercise to fall back and have your colleagues catch you. What if they don't? Is it your fault for trusting them? No chance anybody would take that position seriously. I'm sure that in some fraternities, maybe even most, the upperclassmen take some responsibility to protect the pledges who are coerced into binge drinking to make sure they don't get hurt, or die. Didn't happen in Tim's case, and he died as a result.
I applaud the Piazzas and Sen. Bateman for taking on this difficult issue and trying to save lives in the process. I hope parents will speak to their college-age kids this holiday about personal responsibility and avoiding dangerous situations. Beyond that, however it's time to do two things.
First, have a legitimate conversation about lowering the drinking age and empowering parents to "train" teens to appreciate and respect alcohol -- or avoid it altogether.
Second, eliminate alcohol on campus and in any group using the campus as a recruiting ground. Period. Even with a lower drinking age, there is no reason why the college experience has to be represented by outrageous and dangerous behavior.
Third, if a fraternity can't eliminate alcohol and outrageous activities leading to harm and possibly death, Shut. Them. Down. There's a much better alternative.
That other group that allows young men to get all the camaraderie, life skills training, support and sense of brotherhood they crave at a younger age? It's called the U.S. Military. It's a good place to grow up, mature and become a strong, capable adult. Maybe we meet Gov. Phil Murphy half way on his free college idea. How about a two-year enlistment in the New Jersey National Guard for your tuition?