Blog : Pennsylvania

After Sit-In, Fraternities No More at Swarthmore

Inside Higher ED | By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf  | May 2, 2019

After students occupied one of the Greek houses on campus for four days, protesting a long history of accusations against them, the two chapters at the college dissolved themselves.

Swarthmore College’s only two fraternities have disbanded, following days-long protests and the leak of internal documents from one of the chapters in which its members boasted about sexual violence and expressed bigoted views.

Student activists stormed one of the fraternity houses, which the college had leased to Phi Psi, on Saturday afternoon. There they remained, both on the main level of the quaint stone building in the center of campus and in tents pitched around the yard. Students accused administrators of ignoring the sexual assaults they said took place in the house.

In the released documents, Phi Psi brothers called the bedroom in the upstairs of the home a “rape attic.”While allegations of rape have hounded Phi Psi for years, the troubles on campus began after a handful of students put together a blog chronicling anonymous students’ stories of being harassed or assaulted by fraternity members. One of the students who started the project said the students had received more than 100 submissions, not just from students at Swarthmore, known for its academic rigor and its Quaker roots, but also from the two other institutions in the Tri-College Consortium, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College.

After the blog gained some attention, two student-run publications, the Phoenix and Voices, last month published more than 100 pages of what appear to be Phi Psi meeting “minutes” from 2012 to 2016. The logs detail explicit behavior and racial prejudice by fraternity members.

More than 100 students overtook the Phi Psi house on Saturday, and the same day President Valerie Smith informed the campus that she would block fraternity activities until an investigation into the documents had finished. The investigation will be conducted by Christine Wechsler, a lawyer with the Pennsylvania-based firm Elliot Greenleaf. Wechsler was previously part of the Pennsylvania governor’s Office of General Counsel. She will review the documents and determine if any current students may be implicated in policy violations and identify activities that may be ongoing and infringe on federal or state laws or college rules.

After initially disavowing the documents — while also claiming that the trends had not continued with the current crop of members — Phi Psi late Tuesday stated on Facebook it would dissolve and turn the house back over to the college.“We cannot in good conscience be members of an organization with such a painful history, “ the members wrote on Facebook. “Since the start of our membership, we made it our mission to improve the culture and perception of Phi Psi. Unfortunately, the wounds are too deep to repair, and the best course of action for all those involved is to disband the fraternity completely.”Though not the primary target of student ire, the campus’ other fraternity, Delta Upsilon, also announced on Tuesday that it would disband.“After much discussion, the members of Delta Upsilon have unanimously decided that disbanding our fraternity is in the best interest of the Swarthmore community,” the fraternity wrote on Facebook. “We hope that our former house will provide a space that is inclusive, safe, and promotes healing.”What will become of the buildings, which for many years have housed the fraternities, remains unclear. Students had demanded that they be converted into spaces that would cater to minority students on campus, or as one activist phrased it, those factions that had been “victimized” by the fraternities.

A spokesman did not respond to request for comment about the future of the buildings and other questions.

Swarthmore is in the midst of studying its now even further shrunken Greek system. Only one sorority remains on campus. The committee conducting that work will still continue it, Smith said in a message to campus Wednesday.“Still, as a community, we have much healing to do,” Smith said in a statement. “We have heard heartbreaking stories from students who feel unwelcome to the point of wanting to transfer out of our community. Those stories have come from across the spectrum of our student body — from student protesters to fraternity members. Stories such as these reflect our failure to realize the values we so often espouse.”Smith stressed that the college would investigate any reports of sexual violence that reached officials. Swarthmore has long struggled with its handling of sexual assault cases. It was subject to a highly controversial and publicized complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal sex antidiscrimination law, in 2013.

And students have protested the college’s response to sexual assault before. Last May, students participated in a sit-in over Title IX issues, and eventually the dean of students who was criticized during the demonstrations resigned.

The fraternities also have come under fire. In 2013, students voted down a referendum measure to ban Greek life from Swarthmore. The same year, Phi Psi was blasted for circulating recruitment materials that featured naked women. The fraternity was suspended in 2016 for alcohol violations and resumed hosting parties last year.

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Students sings songs inside the Phi Psi fraternity on Swarthmore College's campus. The protesters occupied the fraternity house in protest.

As of Thursday, dozens of activists ramped up their protest by moving a sit-in from the Phi Psi fraternity house to outside the school president’s office, a move that preceded the college calling in Swarthmore Borough police, though no one was arrested as of Thursday afternoon. A college spokesperson says president Valerie Smith is willing to meet with the protesters if they vacate her office, but they said they have no plans to leave.

The protesters didn’t come empty-handed. They brought five boxes of signs they say once adorned the walls of the fraternity house they occupied as a symbolic “move-out.” A sampling of what is now in the administration building: a Natural Light banner, a stop sign, a Marlboro cigarettes advertisement, a Dogfish Head craft beer sign, and a Haverford Athletics posting that reads, “No running in the grandstand.”

In a statement, president Valerie Smith condemned the language used in the documents and promised an investigation into whether any current students were involved in the illegal behavior described. She also stated a task force convened to examine Greek life on Swarthmore’s campus would issue recommendations to her by today.

Maya Henry, a junior with Organizing for Survivors, the advocacy group behind the sit-in said the activists want to sit in the president’s office until she makes her decision. They’re concerned the school will push off making a choice until summer when many of the school’s 1,600 students won’t be on campus. Classes end Friday; final exams take place the week of May 9.

“If the college doesn’t take a formal stance against fraternities, then at any time they can decide to come back,” Henry said. “It’s not about these particular fraternity brothers right now. It’s the whole system that repeats itself because this is the nature of fraternities.”

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Swarthmore College Students – Angry Over Reports of Sexual Violence and Leaked Fraternity Documents – Stage Sit-In

For 3 days, students at Swarthmore College have occupied the quarters of one of the college’s two fraternities.

The demonstration transpired after “unredacted materials” were anonymously leaked to student journalists that contained derogatory comments about women, minorities and the LGBTQ community, and jokes about sexual assault allegedly written by former members of one of Swarthmore’s fraternities – Phi Psi – whose house the students seized.

The documents labeled as “minutes” are allegedly “secondhand recaps of Phi Psi members’ activities.”

#TitleIX #itsonus #SAAM #IAsk #EROC #nomore

Read the Full Story Here.

 

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Former Penn State University fraternity brothers sentenced in connection with the death of Timothy Piazza during a hazing ritual

Most serious charges dismissed in Timothy Piazza hazing death

Former Penn State University fraternity brothers have been sentenced in connection with the 2017 hazing death of Timothy Piazza.

This is the first time jail sentences have been handed out in the case, though there is a possibility a judge may amend the sentences to house arrest, a source familiar with the case said.

CNN Article Here.

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Michael Deng Hazing Death: Court Rules Fraternity & Former National President Liable

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law just obtained legal finding of liability against the Pi Delta Psi Fraternity, Inc. and its former national director, Andy Meng, for the 2013 hazing death of Baruch College student, Michael Deng.

This is a loss for the national fraternity and a win for the cause.

See our Press Release and Breaking News.

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Timothy Piazza’s Death was a ‘Turning Point’ for America’s Fraternities

By A. Chris Gajilan, CNN | 12/6/2018 (Updated 12/8/2018)

Inhumane, cruel and tragic: Those are some of the words that have been used to describe the 2017 death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza.

The 19-year-old died after consuming 18 drinks in 82 minutes and sustaining a traumatic brain injury during a campus fraternity’s hazing rituals, court records, and testimony show.

Now, nearly two years after Piazza’s passing, many say his death has led to key changes in state legislatures and in the college Greek life community.

“The Piazza case is really a turning point to the extent that people know that fraternity hazing is unacceptable,” said John Hechinger, author of “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities.”

Four families that lost their sons to fraternity hazing — including Timothy’s parents, Jim and Evelyn — began working in September with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. Together, those two groups represent more than 90 fraternities and sororities in the United States.

The parents and the Greek life organizations 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.

“While we may seem like strange bedfellows, we all want the same thing: to end hazing so other parents don’t have to experience what we have,” Jim Piazza said.

So far, the Piazzas have spoken at more than a dozen campuses, directly addressing thousands of students and fraternity and sorority leaders.

“It makes more sense to work with them and have the opportunity to speak to fraternities and sororities and schools … and stop hazing in its tracks by the people who are perpetrating it,” Evelyn Piazza said. “Why not stop it before it even starts?”

Read more: Greek life more popular than ever, despite recent controversy and deaths

Rich Braham is another parent who’s traveled to colleges and universities across the country to support the two-fold mission of education and changing laws.

Braham’s 18-year-old son, Marquise, committed suicide in 2014, and the family believes it was because of alleged hazing while at Penn State Altoona. The case never resulted in criminal charges; the Braham family has filed a civil lawsuit against Penn State, two of its employees, the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and some of its members.

Referring to the case of Timothy Piazza, Braham vividly recalls that the fraternity’s members waited more than 12 hours to call 911 after Timothy fell down a flight of stairs.

“Letting him suffer the way he suffered was just so atrocious,” Braham said. “Tim’s death was a galvanizing point. … It was like, ‘enough.'”

On the campuses he visits, Braham wants to make it clear that these incidents can happen to anyone — and that there will be consequences.

“There was nothing special or unique about our kids. It was Russian roulette,” Braham said. “We want these kids to know that it could be any one of them who dies from hazing. Then, if you don’t hear the message, we’ll lock you up! If you don’t listen, there’s a penalty. It could ruin your lives and future.”

Read more: Why college students subject themselves to abusive hazing

This new coalition of parents harks back to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) campaign of the 1980s, said John Hechinger, who has reported on fraternities and education for years. When Candace Lightner started MADD in May 1980, four days after her daughter was killed by a drunken driver, public health professionals considered drunken driving to be the No. 1 killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. (The leading cause of death in 2016 for that age group was accidental injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

MADD’s efforts helped reduce the number of drunken driving fatalities and change public perception of driving while intoxicated. Now, the parents in the anti-hazing coalition want to achieve the same with respect to dangerous pledging rituals, and they’ve made some strides on campus and with policy.

In August, the North American Interfraternity Conference, which represents 66 fraternities with more than 6,100 chapters across 800 campuses, declared a ban on hard alcohol beginning in September 2019. Under the policy, hard liquor — categorized as more than 15% alcohol by volume — will still be allowed if it is served by a licensed third-party vendor.

“Most of the deaths have involved hard alcohol; if a ban on hard alcohol can successfully be enforced, it could be a great thing,” Hechinger said. “My view is that any step is better than none.”

But Doug Fierberg, a school violence attorney who has represented many families who have lost their children to hazing, is more critical. “No new policy is ever going to be better than its means of implementation,” Fierberg said. “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.

For its part, Penn State is also developing a national scorecard to provide public information on Greek letter organizations, including alcohol and hazing violations and chapter suspensions.

At the time the Piazza law was signed, a Penn State spokeswoman said it came “in conjunction with the aggressive safety and related measures the University has implemented, (and) is another step toward our mutual goal to increase student safety on campuses.”

“Penn State has been, and continues to be, committed to addressing this serious national issue,” spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in a statement.

With its anti-hazing law, Pennsylvania joined at least 12 other states with tougher anti-hazing laws. But the long-term impact of these efforts remains to be seen.

Since Piazza’s death, there have been other alcohol-related deaths at fraternities across the country. A number of headlines have emerged pointing to fraternities and local chapters being suspended for hazing and alcohol abuse. And even with all that, Greek life is still more popular than ever.

“On one side, we’re seeing all of this apparent reform action, (but) on the other, we’re seeing pushback from the student body,” said Hank Nuwer, author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives.”

“As much good work as the Piazzas are doing, not everybody is listening.”

Full Article Here

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CNN Special Report: A Deadly Haze: Inside the Fraternity Crisis

Doug Fierberg and our client will be featured in the report. Tune in Saturday August 25th at 8 pm ET.

When gruesome details of the death of 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza became public, college Greek life and the country’s fraternity system came under intense scrutiny.  A wide-ranging investigation examining hours of video, text messages between fraternity brothers and eyewitness testimony led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in history.  Now, more than two dozen young men face criminal charges.  In A Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis airing Saturday, August 25 at 8pm ET on CNN, Alisyn Camerota takes an in-depth look at what happened to Piazza inside the walls of the Beta Theta Pi house and the alleged coverup that ensued.

Camerota speaks to Kordel Davis, a brother who witnessed the events of that night.  She also speaks with James Vivenzio, a former fraternity brother turned whistleblower, who describes the pledging process and what it’s like to be hazed.

With insight from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim, A Deadly Haze delves into a fraternity system that has been called out for “rampant and pervasive” hazing in its Greek community. But the fraternity hazing crisis stretches far beyond Penn State.

Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country. Some studies find that Greek Life comes with a 50% higher rate of sexual assault. Fraternity and sorority members also report excessive drinking four times higher than the average student. Despite those risks, young men still flock to fraternities. By all accounts, Greek life is as popular as ever – with more than 400,000 active fraternity members which is a 50% increase over the past decade.

As millions of young people arrive on college campuses,  do they and their parents know enough about the perils of hazing at universities across the country?  Even with Timothy Piazza’s tragic, high profile case, dangerous fraternity behavior continues on campuses across the country leading to at least three more deaths in 2017.

A Deadly Haze will also stream live for subscribers on Saturday, August 25 via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The documentary will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

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About CNN Special Report
CNN Special Report is the award-winning, in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events and the powerful human-interest stories that reflect our times.

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Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza – Serious Charges Dropped

A Judge has Dismissed Serious Charges against defendants for the Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza not once, but twice.

For the second time, Pennsylvania Judge, Allen Sinclair, has tossed out the most serious allegations against 11 Pennsylvania State University fraternity brothers who were arrested following the hazing death of Timothy Piazza last year. This sends a dangerous message to fraternities across the nation that life threatening hazing practices resulting in death and injury will be taken lightly in court. PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing, has released the following statement regarding the dropped allegations against the defendants for the hazing death of Timothy Piazza:

Friday, March 30, 2018: We, the members of Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH), want to convey in the strongest possible terms our outrage and profound disappointment in the ruling issued by Pennsylvania Magistrate Allen Sinclair in the hazing death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza.

The most serious charges against the defendants in Tim’s case were dismissed not once, but twice! That sends exactly the wrong message to students who are a part of Greek Life: That they may engage in any criminal or dangerous behavior, including hazing; and will face little consequences for their actions. What a missed opportunity!

To deter criminal behavior of fraternity members, as well as those belonging to other campus-based groups like band, athletics and the military from engaging in reckless activity that can result in sexual assaults, serious physical and emotional harm, and in the worst case, death, the punishment needs to fit the crime. We ask the magistrate, what is the value of a life? What was the value of Timothy Piazza’s life? What is the value of the life of any young person in America and what should the punishment be when that life is recklessly stolen?

After reviewing a treasure trove of video and cell phone evidence revealing exactly what happened to Tim and the real-time response from his “so-called” Beta Theta Pi brothers, two seasoned prosecutors –one county, one state— determined that the defendants should be charged with very serious crimes that could result in lengthy prison sentences if they were convicted. But, perhaps in the most disturbing chapter in this tragic tale is that Magistrate Sinclair, made the unilateral decision to dismiss those most serious charges. Judge Sinclair may not realize it, but his ruling will make it more dangerous for students involved in Greek life and puts at greater risk any student on any campus in America, who makes the fateful decision to attend a Greek event. This ruling is a nod and a wink to all frat boys that they will not be held accountable for their actions, even if someone dies!

PUSH was created to end these types of injustices, and as the nation’s consciousness is focused on keeping our children safe, we will unite in strength with other parents to bring needed change and protect our kids.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law send our sincere condolences to family and friends seeking justice for the loss of Timothy Piazza. Our firm has defended families and victims affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury for over 20 years. We continue to ensure fraternities and fraternity brothers are held fully accountable for their misconduct.

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Penn State Frat Hit by Judge’s Statewide Ban in Hazing Case

Pi Delta Psi fraternity faces a 10 year ban from operating any chapters in Pennsylvania.

Doug Fierberg, who has represented many clients in lawsuits against fraternities and is representing the Dengs in multiple civil suits against Pi Delta Psi and its members, also was heartened by the rulings.

“It recognizes that chapters are agents and mere extensions of national fraternities and they are responsible for the injury and death caused across this country for decades,” he said.

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Doug Fierberg Comments on Criminal Charges Arising From Fraternity Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza at Penn State

Beta Theta Pi Fraternity pledge dies after hazing ritual

fraternity hazing death, fraternity death, hazing death, hazing ritual, fraternity hazing ritual, wrongful death, beta theta pi fraternity, beta theta pi, timothy piazza, piazza, douglas fierberg, doug fierberg, the fierberg national law group, school violence law, michael deng, baruch college
Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State University. Google Maps

18 Penn State students are facing criminal charges – eight for involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, among other charges; four for reckless endangerment and hazing among other charges; and six for evidence tampering –  due to their involvement in the fraternity hazing death of Penn State University Sophomore, Timothy Piazza.

Douglas Fierberg – a national acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing families who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for hazing and alcohol-related student deaths – tells the New York Times:

“The central problem is that in a fraternity house, kids, most of whom cannot legally drink, are in charge of getting and serving alcohol.”

Fierberg is lead attorney for the family of Michael Deng, the Baruch College student who died as a result of a hazing ritual known to Pi Delta Psi brothers as “the gauntlet” or “glass ceiling”. The Deng’s brought a wrongful death suit against the fraternity and several of its members – 37 of whom now face a range of criminal charges for their involvement in Deng’s death, including third degree murder, assault, hindering apprehension and hazing.

Having represented victims of similar tragedies associated with fraternities, our hope is that the Beta Theta Pi members involved in Timothy Piazza’s death are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group offer our deepest condolences to the Piazza family during this unfathomably difficult time.

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Defendant Involved in Fatal Hazing of Michael Deng Pleads Guilty

The Pi Delta Psi brothers present the night our client lost his life in a violent fraternity hazing ritual face a range of criminal charges including assault, hindering apprehension, and hazing.

fatal hazing, hazing ritual, hazing death, michael deng, the fierberg national law group, pi delta psi fraternity
Deng was killed during a trip with the Baruch College chapter of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity.

School Violence Law represents the family of Michael Deng in its pursuit of civil justice in his behalf.

As reported previously, 37 members of an Asian-American cultural fraternity – Pi Delta Psi at Baruch College in Manhattan – were arrested December 2013 after Michael Deng died of head injuries sustained during a brutal hazing ritual known as “the glass ceiling.”

Ka-Wing Yuen is the first of the Pi Delta Psi defendants to stand trial. He plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to hinder apprehension by evidence tampering, and conspiracy to commit hazing Tuesday in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 

Yuen will be sentenced January 23 and could received several months in prison.

Five of the remaining 36 defendants face third-degree murder charges.

Click here and here to review our previous coverage on the events that transpired that fatal night.  
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