As part of my many evening events this week, I am having dinner with the brothers of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity.
Several years ago, SigEp was suspended from UF for hazing and drug use violations. It is hardly alone, neither at UF or other universities. Indeed, serious and often unlawful incidents related to hazing and drinking have left fraternities and sororities nationwide at a tipping point.
Pennsylvania State University banned the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity after 19-year-old Timothy Piazza’s death due to extreme hazing and alcohol violations last year. Prosecutors have filed charges against 26 people.
Louisiana State University suspended all Greek activities and banned the Phi Delta Theta chapter after freshman Maxwell Gruver died following a drinking and hazing incident. Police have filed charges against 10 people.
Florida State University shuttered the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity after the hazing death of 20-year-old Andrew Coffey last year. Police have filed charges against nine people.
At UF, 22 percent of our undergraduates, or 7,584 students, are members of 65 Greek organizations on campus. Although, thankfully, we haven’t experienced a death tied to hazing or drinking at these organizations in recent years, we do have on average, in the past five years, one fraternity or sorority suspended every year for policy violations, usually involving hazing or alcohol.
What Penn State, LSU and FSU experienced could occur here.
How should we respond?
Following the FSU incident, President John Thrasher received both national criticism and praise for his decisive actions in suspending all Greek activities, suspending consumption of alcohol on campus and launching a campus-wide initiative to reinvent Greek life at FSU. I stand with President Thrasher and all other leaders who are setting a higher standard for all students, particularly members of the Greek community.
At UF, the Office of Student Affairs is working with the four UF Greek councils to seek to eliminate underage drinking, hazing and sexual violence, along with managing events with alcohol more effectively and adding more staff support.
Amid these institutional efforts, fraternities and sororities also need to take it upon themselves to raise the bar.
The good news is some already are.
In the past two years, SigEp, nationally and locally, has undergone a transformation. Policy changes remove pledging from membership and establish substance-free chapter houses as the fraternity standard. The fraternity has worked to establish what it calls the Balanced Man Program, which eliminates hazing and instills purpose, perspective, academic excellence, integrity, physical health and mental wellness.
Other UF fraternities have undergone similar transformations.
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. chapter at UF was suspended in 2012 for hazing charges. After restarting in Fall 2015, it won the National Chapter of the Year award in 2017.
Although I have never been a member of a fraternity, I have come to appreciate the considerable value of the Greek community and the positive difference fraternities and sororities can have on their members as well as on the university overall. The Florida Greek community shapes the college experience of its members and contributes significantly to their personal development. The four pillars of Greek life at UF are scholarship, service, leadership and community. I see this lived out across our fraternities and sororities.
At UF, our overall aspiration is that we “will be a premier university that the state, nation and world look to for leadership.” UF must lead in Greek life, particularly in being a model for the elimination of all alcohol and substance abuse, hazing, sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism.
At this tipping point for fraternities and sororities, I call on all of us involved to make sure that Greek life at UF has a future.
Kent Fuchs is the president of UF. His column is featured monthly.