On Friday, Andrew Coffey, a freshman at Florida State University and Pi Kappa Phi pledge, went to a fraternity party. By the time the party was over, Coffey was found dead. Though an autopsy has yet to be completed, police reported that the death appeared to be alcohol-related.
On Monday, FSU announced that its fraternities and sororities will be suspended indefinitely. The decision was made in light of both Coffey’s death, and, in an unrelated incident in a different FSU fraternity, the arrest of a student on cocaine charges.
Stories like these — as awful and tragic as they are — are starting to feel like old news. Hazing has been the cause of more than 200 deaths in the United States since 1838, including more than 40 in the last decade, according to data compiled by Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana.
Over time, colleges and universities in the United States have gotten used to the idea that Greek life gets out of hand, and sometimes even dangerous. Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault and hazing are behaviors we have come to expect from these organizations. These things actually happen so often that we have begun to brush them off as commonplace, though this is a dangerous mindset to get into.
And despite how prevalent the issue is, we have yet to see any institutional change.
People are now looking to individual schools to address these problems and enforce stricter policies on Greek life. That’s the right idea, but it’s an idea that ultimately won’t have much real impact. It would make change on a school-by-school basis, but the larger hazing culture of these organizations would remain the same. It’s unlikely schools would gain enough momentum to make such big changes without something serious happening to prompt them to, something like what we saw this weekend at FSU.
We shouldn’t be waiting until after students are already dead or in prison to be making change. National leadership of these fraternities need to change the way their chapters are being run, and create a culture where hazing isn’t the norm. That doesn’t mean not drinking or having parties, it just means having safe ones. It means holding chapters responsible for the way they treat their freshmen, and it means frats prioritizing their students over their parties.
But this issue doesn’t apply to all fraternities and sororities. There are business fraternities, film fraternities and other group-specific Greek organizations who do not follow this dangerous trend. And when it comes down to it, the issue doesn’t really apply to sororities at all.
FSU decided to suspend both fraternities and sororities, but this is drawing a false comparison between the two types of organizations. Both live in big houses and use the Greek alphabet, but in many ways, the similarities end there. There’s a reason all of these scary headlines are just coming from fraternities: the drinking and hazing culture that can become so pervasive at fraternities does not exist at that scale at sororities. If women can reign their organizations in, and make them safe groups to be a part of, men can too. Hazing culture is not intrinsic to a fraternity’s success — at least it shouldn’t be.
We should not have to look into shutting down fraternities and sororities entirely to address this problem. Greek life can bring a lot of good things to a campus, from the events they host to the philanthropy they are involved in to the sense of community they bring students. But the way things are going right now, with the drinking and hazing these groups have become infamous for — all of that is coming at too high a cost.