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Walter Kimbrough Talks About Hazing Death for The Chronicle for Higher Education

Jim and Evelyn Piazza watched last week as the district attorney of Centre County, Pa., Stacy Parks Miller (left), announced the results of an investigation into the death of their son Timothy (seen in photo at right), a Pennsylvania State U. fraternity pledge. He had toxic levels of alcohol in his body and had been badly injured in a series of falls, the authorities said in filing criminal charges against members of Beta Theta Pi and the frat itself. Photo credit: Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP

May 12, 2017 


Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D., a leading expert on Black fraternities and sororities, was interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education for their article, "After Death at Penn State: What Can a President Do to Change Campus Culture?" below is an excerpt. 

After a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University died in February following a night of hazing, binge-drinking, and apparent neglect by his fellow fraternity brothers, the university’s president wrote a blunt letter to the campus’s Greek community. His frustration nearly jumped off the page as he described the many ways the university had tried and failed to rein in high-risk drinking and wild parties.

Eric J. Barron called Beta Theta Pi’s reputation as a model fraternity a "charade," unveiled still more restrictions on Greek social life, and threatened to ban alcohol in the Greek system altogether. Yet even he wasn’t sure any of those steps would matter. "If new rules can just be ignored, or behavior just goes underground, and if there is no willingness to recognize the adverse impact of excessive drinking, hazing, and sexual assault, then is there any hope?"

Many college presidents have despaired over the reckless partying on their campuses, both in and beyond the Greek system. In 2014, Philip J. Hanlon lamented the "extreme and harmful behaviors" he found at Dartmouth College as he called for "fundamental change" in the social scene. In 2013, John C. Bravman decried the "self-degrading" acts Bucknell University students committed while outrageously drunk during House Party Weekend, abuses that led him to ban it.

But what can presidents realistically do when students enter college familiar with blackout drinking, drugs, hazing, and a host of other activities that begin in high school? And how much can they control when so much of the action takes place in off-campus housing, bars, and apartments?

“It's one of the hardest uphill battles we face in higher education. We don't have any wind at our back on this fight.”

"It’s one of the hardest uphill battles we face in higher education," says Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University and an expert on hazing. "We don’t have any wind at our back on this fight."

Presidents who have lived through painful experiences like the death of a student say that, as hard as it is to find solutions, campus leadership is crucial to tackling this complex issue. Through a combination of education and enforcement — both of which require resources — along with their bully pulpit, presidents can create a focused and sustained conversation around those problems. "Now is a good time on campus to talk to students and say, Explain it to me," says Mr. Kimbrough.

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