PSU sees emotional swings

February has been a month of two extremes for Penn State University.

On the positive side, last weekend’s 46-hour dance marathon known as THON raised more than $10 million to benefit pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Last year’s event raised $9.7 million.

The Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, billed as the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, has raised more than $137 million since 1977.

But this month the university also has witnessed horrible tragedy — ramifications from which the university community is dealing and will continue to deal indefinitely.

The tragedy was the death of a Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge who fell while at a Feb. 2 pledge acceptance ceremony at the fraternity’s chapter house and who died at a hospital on Feb. 4.

For reasons that haven’t yet been disclosed by authorities, help wasn’t summoned until Feb. 3, an estimated 12 hours after the fall.

The immediate impacts rightly have proven catastrophic for the fraternity chapter; the fraternity’s national office closed the chapter quickly, based on information it had obtained.

Penn State announced that it would be at least five years before the chapter might be able to regain status as a recognized fraternity.

Meanwhile, State College police are investigating, having said that hazing and excessive drinking might have contributed to the pledge’s death.

The university announced an alcohol ban at fraternity-related social events at the main campus in State College for the remainder of the spring semester.

And it’s not only Penn State that’s now dealing with a troubling incident involving campus Greek life. A Wall Street Journal article in the newspaper’s Feb. 11-12 edition reported that four female students at Northwestern University’s Evanston, Ill., campus allegedly were given a date-rape drug while at a fraternity party and that two of the women alleged that they were sexually assaulted.

In the same article, the Journal reported that a fifth woman allegedly was drugged and assaulted at a different Northwestern fraternity house.

While Penn State’s Greek organizations can have such a positive impact at an event like THON, it’s distressing that at least some of those same organizations also allow themselves to make bad decisions regarding alcohol and other aspects of conduct.

Regarding the pledging ritual, there are plenty of positive things “lowly pledges” could be required to do, instead of some of the stupid, dangerous, life-threatening activities to which some pledges are exposed.

Responding to the Feb. 4 death and initial findings, Beta Theta Pi’s national fraternity, in a statement, said, “These findings are not in keeping with Beta Theta Pi’s longstanding values of responsible conduct, mutual assistance and integrity.”

Apparently, the Penn State chapter failed on all of those fronts at the Feb. 2 ceremony.

Altoona understands what the university’s main campus is feeling at this time — joy one minute and sadness the next.

THON’s success is a great reflection on Penn State’s local campus, as well as Penn State’s other campuses. However, for the local campus there’s the grim remembrance of a suicide in recent years attributed to Greek life.

Making the most of the college experience should be every student’s objective, but each must be wary of the perils lurking in that journey.

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