After a profound tragedy, Penn State was faced with a decision. It was clear the existing model of Greek self-governance here and at universities across the country was broken. We considered withdrawing University recognition of Greek-letter organizations and walking away from Greek-life altogether. But we believed that Greek organizations operating without University oversight would make our community less safe. We also believed, that through concerted effort, we could both recapture many of the positive ideals of Greek life and minimize risky behaviors.
Consequently, we implemented a number of sweeping changes in 2017, the heart of which were aimed at increasing student safety and decreasing risky behaviors — particularly heavy drinking and hazing. We opened new lines of communication with national organizations, chapters, alumni, trustees and our own students. And to that end, many students, together with alumni, legislators and law enforcement, have stepped up as important partners.
Is reform working?
Although it is probably too early to claim a trend or to demonstrate a clear causal relationship to the reforms, the signs are encouraging. For the first full academic year with Greek-life reforms in place, Highlands neighborhood total crimes reported are down by 20 percent and total cases at fraternities are down approximately 30 percent compared to the last year without reforms in place. For the fall 2018 semester, there were 17 percent fewer alcohol-related Mount Nittany Medical Center emergency department visits by students than in the fall 2017 semester. And, Greek-life academic performance is stronger with Panhellenic grade points up by 0.3 and Interfraternity Council grade points up by 0.2. All four student-led Greek councils have increased their new member grade-point averages since the implementation of deferred recruitment and enhanced eligibility requirements.
In addition to the State College Borough statistics, we are collecting data and sharing it through our Greek Chapter Scorecards — and it has been met with great interest. Our scorecard, for example, had almost 10,000 unique downloads between March and December alone. This is proving to be a vital tool for the community — for students and their parents it provides key information about the strengths and weaknesses of individual chapters, encouraging decisions to be made with much greater awareness. We have harnessed learnings and are committed to sharing outcomes here and beyond.
Through our compliance coordinators, hotline reports, police and direct reports to Student Conduct, we have seen the departure of 12 organizations in the past two years for violation of our stated expectations for their behavior. We also welcomed new Greek-letter organizations. I am particularly pleased to see growth within the National Pan-Hellenic Council, which governs historically black fraternity and sorority chapters. The council added two chapters in 2018 — Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. last spring and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. — and is in the process of adding other organizations in the coming months.
Our momentum continues in our collective efforts to promote student safety. This year, the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing legislation was signed into Pennsylvania law and codifies significant criminal penalties designed to prevent hazing. Pennsylvania’s Medical Amnesty Law and Penn State’s Responsible Action Protocol protect students from prosecution for consumption of alcohol when they seek help for a peer who is passed out, unconscious or unresponsive as the result of over-consumption.
These measured improvements haven’t come without challenges. To be successful, we need collaboration and cooperation on all fronts, not resistance.
A recent challenge to the State College Borough ordinance to maintain properties as fraternity housing without University recognition is a critical issue. A November 2018 court decision will allow members of two suspended fraternities that lost University recognition to continue to live together and operate as fraternity houses in the borough. The ruling goes against a longstanding municipal housing ordinance that prohibits groups of unrelated individuals from living together in the same house unless they are recognized by the University as a fraternity. This would impede any ability to promote student and community safety. This is an example in which some unrecognized student organizations are operating independently of the University, and in some cases national fraternity organizations are sustaining charters under these circumstances — it is questionable and troubling judgment as well as potentially dangerous.
We have communicated with parents to warn them about students joining these rogue chapters — Sigma Alpha Mu and Alpha Sigma Phi. We also have expressed our frustration with the national chapters and call on the media and public to hold these organizations accountable. And, we are supportive of the borough’s efforts to appeal the decision. As hospital emergency room visits by students decline significantly, as crime rates decrease, and as grade points go up, we simply can’t afford to go backward.
On balance, we are making progress, but face significant challenges here, and across the country. We thank our Greek-life partners who have embraced change, and we encourage others to seriously consider the lasting consequences of decisions that are counter to the tenets of student safety and well-being.
I am proud of the students who have stepped up in the face of adversity. Because of them, I see a future where Greek-letter organizations at Penn State can continue with a renewed purpose, focused on leadership, service and camaraderie. I commend the student organizations and alumni that have embraced our new measures, and especially those that have gone above and beyond to not only implement necessary changes, but who also are taking responsibility for their organizational outcomes, and commitment to their missions and values.
I remain hopeful that we will continue on this trajectory in 2019. Penn State remains steadfast in its commitment to transforming the Greek-letter community.
Freedom of religion is at the very foundation of the United States, codified as the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Even more importantly, we recognize the free choice of worship as a fundamental human right. We are approaching a season where many of us will be celebrating some of our most valued traditions and beliefs. It is worth taking a moment to consider how we would feel if the symbols of our religious beliefs were stolen, or vandalized, or if the expression of our most sacred beliefs risked violence.
The menorah shares the universal message of religious freedom. It symbolizes universal enlightenment, and that good will prevail over evil, freedom over oppression, and light over darkness. Lighting the menorah is a joyous time that gives us the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the messages of light, truth and goodness.
Unfortunately, today my thoughts are on anti-Semitism and the ugly truth that it still exists in our society. My thoughts are on the risks to every religion and set of beliefs if we do not join together in protecting our fundamental human rights.
Within the last week, the Zeta Beta Tau menorah was vandalized and then stolen in two separate incidents. I am deeply saddened by these incidents. Every individual who treasures their personal faith should be saddened by these incidents.
Attacks that target the Jewish faith are chilling, particularly in light of the recent horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which serves many Penn State faculty, staff, students and alumni. Nationally there is an increase of anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s report, the number of anti-Semitic incidents was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016, marking the largest single-year increase on record and the second-highest number reported since the organization began collecting incident data. In the context of the national climate, we need to protect against hate and prejudice of any kind, they have no place in our community or society.
The Zeta Beta Tau menorah was recovered, but there is lasting damage — to the menorah, the Jewish community, and to all Penn Staters who value their own personal rights of worship. It is difficult for me to fathom why anyone would engage in such acts, and I know I’m not alone. I have seen our Penn State community unite to support and encourage one another. There is tremendous good in the hearts of those who live, learn and work on our campuses. We cannot allow the misguided and hateful acts of a few to stand unchallenged. If you see something, say something.
At this time, I also ask that you extend extra kindness to those in Zeta Beta Tau and the entire Jewish community. Let them know they are not alone, and we are united in condemning all acts of hate and intimidation. Resources are available for individuals in our community through CAPS, and I encourage you to use them.
Finally, I ask you reflect on what the menorah means. I ask you to reflect on the importance of being able to worship freely to you personally, regardless of your faith. We have an obligation to illuminate the world, and to be one by cherishing our diversity and our fundamental human rights. Thank you for taking this moment to reflect on what we value. I hope to see you at Wednesday’s menorah lighting on Old Main lawn.
With Veterans Day comes the official end of Penn State’s Military Appreciation Week events for 2018, although military appreciation is an ongoing commitment for Penn State. What began in 2011 with a football game has grown into a nearly monthlong celebration — featuring the largest annual Military Appreciation event in the Big Ten — beginning in October and running through Veterans Day, observed on Nov. 12.
Today is a special time to honor and reflect on our nation’s heroes and the families who support them.
One example of Penn State’s commitment to military veterans, service members and their families is the Seats for Service Members Program, which provided complimentary tickets to active duty, guard and reserve military, veterans, and fallen and Gold Stars families for the Penn State football game (Oct. 27) against Iowa. Over 6,000 seats were donated by Penn Staters, community members and businesses for these heroes. And, a host of volunteers in the hundreds worked tirelessly to make the Military Appreciation Tailgate an extraordinary event. I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to all of the volunteers, organizers and donors who made our Military Appreciation events possible.
At the Military Appreciation Tailgate, I had the privilege of meeting a veteran of World War II. He was so proud and so pleased to be with us for the tailgate and game. He told me attending the event was a dream come true, and it was the best day he could remember having in a very long time. It was our honor to host him and recognize his service, along with so many other heroes.
At Penn State, our connections to the armed services run long and deep. Ever since 1863 when Penn State took on its role as Pennsylvania’s sole land-grant university, our relationship with the military has been part of our DNA. Military science and training have an important place in our curriculum, and the University continues a strong tradition of supporting the military community.
Veterans have had a profound impact on our institution over the years. Several of our past presidents were veterans, including George Atherton, John Fraser and James Beaver, who served in the Civil War. They all played a key role in shaping our college as a land-grant institution. Presidents John Oswald and Bryce Jordan served in World War II and helped Penn State grow through the 1970s and 80s.
Not only did the University’s veteran leaders have an impact, but so have our student veterans. After World War II, Penn State reserved student slots for our returning veterans. In 1946, 55 percent of Penn State’s full-time students were veterans and that number increased to 80 percent by the fall of 1947. The personal qualities and life experiences that student veterans brought with them to Penn State, and the second order benefits of the G.I. Bill, led to the greatest expansion of higher education in this country.
Today, more than 5,600 military-connected students are taking advantage of G.I. Bill benefits at our University, and Penn State has one of the largest, oldest and most successful ROTC programs in the nation.
Penn State also is one of the leading research universities associated with the federal Department of Defense. Our faculty, students and staff conduct about $200 million a year in defense-related research. As a result of our long record of outstanding work, the U.S. Navy recently awarded a 10-year, $2.1 billion contract to the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State — to conduct research and development to improve U.S. national security.
Penn State is consistently ranked as a military-friendly institution. For veteran students at every Penn State campus and online through the World Campus, the University offers peer counseling services and assists with VA benefits, the college application process, financial aid and living arrangements through our Office of Veterans Programs. We’re proud of that ranking, and we’re proud of our role in preparing those who serve and protect our nation.
Our student veterans and service members enrich our University with their diverse life experiences and with their demonstration of the true meaning of hard work and sacrifice. Thank you for your service and for being a part of Penn State.
Support and Resources for Adult Veteran Students
Penn State is committed to providing the necessary resources and support to help veteran students succeed in and out of the classroom, including:
- Aid for student veterans’ transitions from service to college through a host of programs, including a peer-to-peer sponsorship and mentoring program run by current student veterans, veteran student clubs and organization, and a veteran-only first-year seminar class, “Transition is the Mission.”
- Penn State’s Office of Veterans Programs provides services in outreach, certification, mentorship and general counseling to veterans and Department of Veterans Affairs benefits recipients.
- The Penn State Law Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic provides students hands-on experience representing veterans and current service members in some of the unique legal issues they encounter.
- Penn State World Campus has aligned its online degree and certificate programs, student support services, and policies to address the unique needs of military and veteran students. World Campus also has an academic military support team, representing every academic and support unit within the University to help facilitate student success and achievement.
- The Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness is a valuable, interactive and comprehensive resource for professionals working with military families. Its staff engage in applied research and evaluation, implementation science, education and outreach to advance the well-being and health of military families.