Parents of Timothy Piazza: Penn State Greek life reform "a good start"
New oversight measures are now in effect for Greek life organizations at Penn State University. They were implemented in response to the death of Timothy Piazza in February. Prosecutors allege the sophomore was hazed into drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at a party. Piazza's parents pushed Penn State to make changes.
"I think they're a good start. We've been in contact with President Barron for the past six months about proposals that they need to implement, and many of the proposals they've put forth are our suggestions. But there's still more that they need to do," father Jim Piazza said, sitting alongside mother Evelyn, in an interview you'll see only on "CBS This Morning." "They really haven't implemented a lot of them yet, and at the end of the day, they need to implement and more importantly enforce."
With the fall semester underway, Penn State President Eric Barron is implementing more than a dozen reforms to Greek life at the school. The university will take responsibility for oversight and discipline of fraternities and sororities. Social restrictions addressing alcohol use will remain in place as well as a no-tolerance policy for hazing.
"It can't happen to anybody else. It's just too awful," Evelyn said.
"We have a big stake in this. This is part of Tim's legacy. We have to make a difference," Jim added.
While they are "happy" Penn State has taken responsibility for the lack of oversight and disciplinary actions, they said they are still concerned.
"They have the same people involved and those people were ineffective, so I'm concerned about that," Jim said.
Preliminary hearings are underway for members of the now-closed Beta Theta Pi frat house. Eighteen of them are facing charges in connection to the death of sophomore Timothy Piazza.
Piazza died following an initiation ceremony that involved heavy drinking. He fell down a flight of stairs and hit his head repeatedly, often in view of his fraternity brothers. No one called for help until the following morning.
"We have a friend who's unconscious," a man could be heard saying on a 911 call.
During hearings in July, the prosecution presented apparently incriminating text messages sent from some of the frat brothers.
"I don't want to go to jail for this," wrote one member.
"The boys themselves knew what they did. The texts admit right after, before he even passes away. They say it's because of the hazing, it's because of the drinking, they caused this, we should have called 911," Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said.
But lawyers for the 16 defendants who appeared at the preliminary hearing claim the evidence doesn't warrant a trial. Some argue the brothers didn't force Piazza to drink and can't be held responsible for knowing the difference between intoxication and serious injury.
"I think it's just an absurd statement," Jim said. "I mean, he wanted to be part of this club. They fed significant amounts of alcohol into him. Your judgment immediately starts to go sideways, and they continued to force alcohol on him and all the other pledges."
Two of the brothers waived their right to a preliminary hearing.
The Piazzas agreed to watch surveillance video of the incident only if they watched it with the university president and the trustees.
"I only wanted to do that so they would do it, so they could see the severity of what happened, and we want them to watch it. We personally do not want to watch it, but if they make us, we will. But they need to watch it so they can implement these changes," Jim said.
Jim and Evelyn said they dropped off their older son at Penn State this past weekend. "We just couldn't stick around. It was hard knowing we should have been bringing two kids back," Evelyn said.
To parents who are sending their children off to college this fall, the Piazzas had this advice:
"Go in with your eyes open. Talk to your kids. This could happen to anybody. If it happened to Tim, it could happen to anybody," Evelyn said. "And if it doesn't feel right, if something makes you feel uncomfortable, if you feel pressured, don't do it. You're not invincible. You're so important to somebody somewhere."
"I also encourage all the parents that if they hear something, that they should also speak up and say something," Jim said. "We've heard a lot of stories about severe hazing at Penn State now from a lot of people. Some have written letters to the president, others just let it go. You need to speak up."
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