TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s suspension of all fraternities and sororities after a pledge’s death dampens Greek life on campus just as it prepares for homecoming week. But one critic says more may be needed to change fraternity behavior.
Douglas Fierberg, a Washington-based attorney who has pursued lawsuits over hazing deaths, says he’s skeptical that suspensions go far enough, after Florida State became at least the third school to do so this year. The school suspended 55 fraternities and sororities Monday following the suspected alcohol-related death of a pledge and the cocaine-related arrest of someone at another fraternity.
“I think campuses are doing it because they believe some form of a perceived strong reaction is a necessity,” Fierberg said, adding that schools typically lift the suspensions without changing the self-governance of the Greek houses or adding transparency on incidents.
“That’s like having the fox watching the chicken coop. This structure has proven to fail for decades.”
The suspension hits the campus as it prepares for events that usually deeply involve Greek houses, which includes a homecoming parade on Nov. 17.
“It will be more tame and not as festive as it usually is because there are a lot of floats during the parade and competitions during the week,” Florida State student Rachel Humphries said.
Andrew Coffey, a pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, died Friday after he was found unresponsive following a party. Police said alcohol may have been a factor but were awaiting an autopsy. Coffey, 20, was a junior in his first semester at Florida State.
On Monday, Garrett John Marcy, a member of Phi Delta Theta, was arrested by university police and charged with the sale and trafficking of cocaine. Marcy, 20, is also a junior and continues to be held in Leon County Jail on a $75,000 bond.
University President John Thrasher said Monday the duration of the suspension had not yet been determined.
“I just feel like for whatever reason, the message is not getting through,” Thrasher said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got to take steps with our students, to make sure this never happens again.”
Students can continue to live in their fraternity or sorority houses and can hold meetings with the university or their national chapter, but won’t be allowed to hold any other events including any organized participation in homecoming.
Thrasher has also banned alcohol at all student organization events during the suspension.
“For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life on campus. They must participate in that culture,” Thrasher said.
The North-American Interfraternity Conference said in a statement that it was ready to help FSU seek a way forward “that enhances safety and accountability, while respecting the rights of students who model fraternal excellence.”
Penn State suspended fraternities and sororities from holding social activities during the spring semester after the February hazing death of 19-year old Timothy Piazza. Louisiana State had a one-month suspension and continues to ban alcohol at Greek parties after the hazing death of 18-year old Maxwell Gruver in September.
FSU student Abygail Stiekman said she was surprised that her school was taking action, but said it was necessary.
“I think hazing is a problem and alcohol is the basis of a lot of their events,” she said.
However, penalizing all Greek houses seemed unfair to freshman Lila Pullo, who was supposed to be initiated into the Delta Gamma sorority.
“For me and a lot of the people who are entering, we’re all pretty upset because we are trying to get the reputation back up,” she said. “Most of the organizations getting in trouble are fraternities. If they did end Greek life the atmosphere on campus will go down a lot.”
John Armstrong, who served as president of Florida State’s Beta Theta Pi chapter in 1998, said he had mixed feelings about Monday’s announcement.
“Unfortunately, there has been a rash of instances similar to this, so I can understand the reason for the response,” Armstrong said. “I hope that it’s a short-lived response.”
Armstrong said there’s more to fraternity life than just drinking and partying.
“It might be a good idea for people to take a step back and reflect on what values we truly want to portray in the Greek system,” Armstrong said.