Tragedy stains PSU again

The 18 Penn State University fraternity members charged last week in connection with the death of a pledge in February are innocent until proven guilty.

However, evidence compiled by a grand jury that was the basis for the criminal charges filed against the brothers of Beta Theta Pi has provided a damning picture of that Greek organization’s conduct.

It’s known now that this fraternity, which long enjoyed a reputation within the university community as a model-behavior organization, had instead been perpetuating a deception of tragic proportion.

University President Eric Barron, in an open letter to the PSU Greek community on April 10, characterized that “model” behavior as but a charade.

In the end, the “charade” claimed the life of sophomore engineering student Timothy Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, N.J., who died as a result of what’s been described as “incomprehensible” conduct by the fraternity members facing charges.

According to the grand jury report, Piazza was forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual during the evening of Feb. 2. Afterward, and during the early hours of Feb. 3, he fell several times, striking his head, but fraternity members refused to seek medical help for him.

Video footage of the goings-on that night revealed the abominable attitude by some of the fraternity brothers that they were capable of deciding that medical help wasn’t necessary.

It wasn’t until later on Feb. 3 that help finally was sought.

Piazza died in a hospital on Feb. 4, the victim of a traumatic brain injury — as well as the hazing ritual’s “medical expertise.”

Piazza was at least partly responsible for his own death, as a result of his willing participation in that night’s activities.

However, the fraternity never should have condoned exposing anyone to the kind of dangerous expectations that were in place that night.

Regardless of what the future holds for those 18 members who have been charged, the fraternity brothers always will carry with them an arrest record, even if, for some, not a criminal conviction.

For the rest of their lives, some might even have jail time for future potential employers to weigh as those companies decide whether they should be hired and trusted in positions of responsibility.

None of that is supposed to be a product of the higher-education experience, but in this instance, that result is well deserved.

The nation watched as the Jerry Sandusky child-sex-abuse scandal burst into the spotlight in November 2011. Now Penn State, a great university, again is in the national spotlight — for another terrible reason.

It’s important for colleges and universities across the nation, as well as all of the fraternity and sorority chapters they house, to reflect on what happened at PSU in February and the consequences now unfolding.

So should all families with children in college, or whose children will be pursuing higher education in the future.

College life is supposed to be a time of enrichment, enlightenment and growing up. On that tragic night in February, it was something much less.

Those 18 defendants’ lives are changed forever, and that might be the fate of Greek life on the campus, going forward.

Major decisions await Barron and the university’s trustees.

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