USF has dialogues about Greek life focusing on values

The deaths of Greek pledges at several universities such as FSU over the past year have caused changes to administration oversight and has prompted universities to look into hazing. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

After the death of a pledge and an arrest of a fraternity member on drug charges, the president of FSU, John E. Thrasher, suspended all fraternity and sorority activities until students who participate in Greek life alter their behavior and accept a “new normal.” In order to prevent tragedies like this one, USF has encouraged constructive dialogues within fraternities and sororities. 

On Nov. 3, Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge at FSU, was found unresponsive following a party he attended the night before. According to Tallahassee police, alcohol was most likely involved.

In spring, Penn State had a similar issue with a pledge dying during a party, which led to more oversight by administration. More recently, last month Louisiana State put a temporary ban on drinking in Greek life before also instilling greater oversight and Wednesday Texas State banned all Greek life for the death of a pledge at a party.

In October 2016, Pi Kappa Phi’s USF chapter was provisionally suspended pending an investigation after a 16-year-old girl claimed she was raped by member Dillon LaGamma while attending a party hosted by the fraternity. After completion of the investigation, the organization was not charged with sexual assault and the provisional suspension was lifted, though individual charges remain against the former chapter member.

LaGamma’s jury trial was originally scheduled for Aug. 28 of this year, but LaGamma and his attorney successfully requested a motion to continue. Therefore, the trial has been rescheduled for Dec. 11.

The family of the victim filed a civil suit against the fraternity and its USF chapter in July. They are seeking $5 million plus court costs.

Amid this controversy, USF is taking steps to incite a constructive dialogue to prevent dangerous behavior among students in Greek Life. 

Monica Miranda, director of the Center for Student Involvement & Fraternity/Sorority Life, said programs like the recent National Hazing Prevention Week are a step in the right direction. This took place last week after being postponed due to Hurricane Irma in September. 

“It just happened to be occurring after that information came out about FSU, so it’s unfortunate,” Miranda said. “You never want to hear about an incident like that. You never want to hear about a tragedy like that. What was timely on our part, was the fact that we were providing education on hazing prevention and risk management” 

Miranda said it is essential to create dialogue centered around hazing and that’s what National Hazing Prevention Week focused on. 

“The team and the staff that were putting it together did things a little differently this year,” Miranda said. “We focused on conversations and structured programming that allowed for some deeper level conversations about what hazing is, how to prevent it, and how to just have critical conversations about a topic that’s not easy to talk about.”

Miranda said that since the alleged rape occurred on campus, increased education and open dialogue has been available to Greek students. 

“For us, it’s about increasing our educational opportunities, so that’s what we’re really focused on,” Miranda said. “It’s also the type of education. So, we are definitely focusing in on the dialogue aspect, because what we are seeing in the research that have been done more recently is how campus has been able to shift some cultures. It’s really about getting down and into the critical conversations with students, so that they can be a part of the conversation and a part of the solution.”

Miranda said when students stay true to the values of their organizations, incidents like these would not happen.

“We focus on the values of fraternities and sororities,” Miranda said. “If students are focused on their founding values of their organization and they really remind themselves, ‘What would our founders do,’ then we wouldn’t have any of these issues, because the values are of service, leadership, philanthropy, brotherhood and sisterhood.

“You’re not going to harm or put your brother or sister at risk if you’re really focused on the values of your organization. We focus on the education, so people are understanding what those values are and are consistently reminded what those values are. It is when those values are not enacted, it is when those values are deviated from, that we have issues.”

Thrasher’s statement that students must accept a “new normal” when it comes to Greek culture is somewhat jarring, but after the tragedies that occurred on both FSU’s and USF’s campus, change seems inevitable.

“I’m not going to sit here and say to you we are a perfect campus, that we are immune to any issues or bad choices that humans make,” Miranda said. “Humans sometimes make bad decisions. It’s how we adjudicate those decisions and how we try and prevent those decisions from being made by providing advanced and preventative education.”