Penn State president says sexual assaults, alcohol offenses down after Greek life reforms

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    Penn State's Old Main Campus. Source: Creative Commons via Flickr user Cole Camplese.

    This article was edited on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. to include new comments from a Penn State spokesman about sexual assault.

    Anti-hazing reforms at Pennsylvania State University have contributed to a drop in sexual assaults and alcohol-related offenses in the first year since they took effect, the university’s president said Tuesday.

    In 2017-18, the first full academic year that PSU enforced a new set of Greek life rules, alcohol-related crimes in State College Borough dropped by 50 percent, university President Eric Barron told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

    That figure is based on reports from the State College municipal police force, he said.

    Following the hazing-related death of PSU freshman Timothy Piazza in February 2017, PSU announced a suite of new rules and regulations for Greek life organizations.

    Among other measures, PSU banned hard liquor at fraternity parties and established a team of monitors to make unannounced visits to off-campus fraternity houses.

    The number of alcohol-related emergency room visits by students subsequently declined by 17 percent during the 2017-2018 school year, Barron said.

    He added that sexual assault reports also dropped “considerably.”

    In 2016, 28 rapes were reported in non-campus locations, mostly Greek houses, a university spokesman said Tuesday afternoon, compared to 17 reported rapes in 2017.

    The university is cautious, however, to attribute the drop in sexual assaults to the Greek reforms alone, Lawrence Lokman, VP of Strategic Communications, said.

    Multiple offices across the university work to curb and monitor sexual assault cases, Lokman said.

    As a result, PSU public safety officials evaluate sexual assault data from many sources, including on-campus offices and local medical facilities.

    “Data gathering from the many sources available is a challenge, which explains our caution” Lokman said. “We like the direction, but more information and study are needed.”

    In addition to regulating alcohol and Greek social functions, PSU also delayed Greek recruitment from the fall semester to spring, and established new academic programs and disciplinary structures for Greek organizations.

    Those measures have generated “significant” gains in student academic performance, Barron said. The average GPA of every Greek organization rose during the 2017-18 school year, he said.

    Across all Greek life organizations, the average GPA of women in sororities has risen by three-tenths of a point, Barron said, while that of fraternity members has risen by one-tenth of a point.

    Barron acknowledged that it’s only been a year and a half since PSU clamped down on Greek organizations.

    “It is early, and we have to make sure we don’t yield as we continue to work on this,” Barron said.

    But he said that new laws passed by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly last year have helped PSU better define hazing and communicate its consequences to its student body.

    Pennsylvania lawmakers passed the Timothy Piazza Anti Hazing Law in October 2018, which created stricter punishments for hazing-related offenses and classified new types of hazing under state law.

    For PSU administrators, the bill codified “the notion that hazing has degrees and can be life-threatening,” Barron said.

    As for students and Greek life members, Barron said, “having criminal codes that match the severity of hazing” has been an effective deterrent to hazing activity.

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