Penn State launches national research center to study Greek life

January 22, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of Penn State’s continued leadership in the transformation of Greek life on college campuses across the country, University officials today (Jan. 22) announced the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform (Piazza Center) and pledged at least $2 million toward its establishment.

This multidisciplinary research center will be augmented by a fundraising campaign aimed at garnering $3 million in private support, with the promise of an additional $3 million in matching funds from Penn State — for a prospective endowment of at least $8 million.

“Universities have been operating in a void and missing critical information, such as a consistent and cumulative nationwide look at Greek life on our campuses,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “With the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, university leaders will now have a dedicated center for the study of best practices and assessment in fraternity and sorority life across the country. The Piazza Center will provide an essential leadership role to compel the collective change required.”

The center is named in memory of Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State who died in February 2017 during pledging activities at the now permanently banned Beta Theta Pi chapter.

“We are pleased that Penn State is taking the lead in Greek-life reforms and cultural change with the creation of the Piazza Center as we approach the two-year anniversary of the death of our son Tim, as a result of the reckless and irresponsible behavior of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity,” said Jim Piazza. “We are also grateful that President Eric Barron has followed through on his commitment to us to make meaningful, positive change and to enhance transparency to protect our children who choose the Greek-life experience at Penn State and at college campuses throughout the country. We know these changes required making many tough decisions and we applaud him for staying the course. We are grateful for Tim’s legacy to live on at Penn State and through the Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation (www.liveliketim.org).”

Since 2017, Penn State has undertaken a series of aggressive measures to overcome challenges in its Greek-letter community related to hazing, the misuse of alcohol, sexual assault, and overly large and disruptive social events. The Piazza Center extends these local efforts by providing the scholarship required to study and learn from them, but also to develop and manage a national scorecard on fraternities and sororities, host national conversations on these topics, collect and distribute best practices, and sponsor original research that will inform practice in this field.

The new center builds upon the legacy of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research, which has been located at Indiana University Bloomington since 1979 and is in the process of transferring to Penn State.

“We applaud the progress that has been made by our colleagues at Indiana University. Their work provided a solid foundation upon which to expand,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs at Penn State. “The new center at Penn State will benefit from a significant endowment to initiate new multidisciplinary research and education initiatives and fill a major void in the field for knowledge and best practices information. This is a profound development that over time will help universities develop and refine Greek-life initiatives with the benefit of far greater knowledge and research than has been available in this field.”

Penn State officials have initiated and participated in various national conversations about fraternity and sorority life in the past year. The university’s leadership on these issues is evident from its many initiatives and the interest in those initiatives other universities have demonstrated.

The tragic death of Tim Piazza at Penn State was only one of several deaths occurring in hazing activities in the United States in 2017. Other deaths have occurred in fraternity hazing activities across the country since that time, and colleges and universities have directed their attention to new solutions to these longstanding issues.

“Penn State’s leadership and commitment to providing resources to advance research about fraternity and sorority life are unprecedented,” said Kaye Schendel, president of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research at Indiana University. “Penn State’s plans will fulfill our center’s vision for a fraternity and sorority experience informed by assessment and research aligned with the mission of higher education. There finally will be the resources necessary to get real answers to these difficult questions.”  

Last Updated January 23, 2019