Accessibility links

Breaking News

Student Union

Parents, Leaders Work to End Hazing at US Colleges

FILE - Evelyn Piazza, center, seated with her husband Jim, right, and son Michael, speaks during an interview May 15, 2017, in New York. The Piazzas talked about Tim Piazza, 19, a brother, son and Penn State sophomore who died in February after he was put through a hazing ritual at his fraternity house and forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time.
FILE - Evelyn Piazza, center, seated with her husband Jim, right, and son Michael, speaks during an interview May 15, 2017, in New York. The Piazzas talked about Tim Piazza, 19, a brother, son and Penn State sophomore who died in February after he was put through a hazing ritual at his fraternity house and forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time.

Tim Piazza and Marquise Braham told their parents they just wanted to make some new friends by joining college social groups called fraternities. Neither of them got much of a chance.

The two young men died after taking part in extreme rituals for admission into the all-male student groups. They were not even 20 years old.

Now, their parents are launching a campaign to end these rituals across the United States. They are joined by the parents of Max Gruver and Brian Kowiak, two students who died in similar ways. And they have partnered with national leaders of fraternities, and of female student social groups called sororities.

Fraternities and sororities are private social groups common to many colleges and universities in the U.S. They have a long history as part of the American higher education experience.

Parties, housing, projects

Students pay membership fees. The groups hold parties and other social events. Some offer shared housing. Members usually also must take part in community service programs. And members often help each other find jobs after they graduate.

But there is a darker side to Greek life, as involvement in fraternities and sororities is often called. The term comes from the letters of the ancient Greek alphabet the groups use to make their names.

The process of becoming a member sometimes involves what is called hazing. This is when current members force pledges, those interested in joining, to take part in dangerous, abusive or possibly illegal activities.

Last week, Piazza's father, Jim, and Braham's father, Rich, began preparing for a number of television appearances. They will use those appearances to announce their anti-hazing campaign.

"I know it might seem strange to some people that families who lost their children to fraternity hazing are now working with fraternities and sororities to eradicate hazing," Jim Piazza told the Associated Press.

"But," he added, "we will do anything that we can to save a life and to prevent another shattered family."

His 19-year-old son died last year after his fraternity "brothers" ordered him to drink a huge amount of alcohol. He became severely intoxicated. He fell repeatedly, including down stairs and into an iron fixture. It was almost 12 hours before the fraternity members called for medical help. He received treatment at a hospital, but it was too late. Tim Piazza died from his injuries.

FILE – In this Nov. 9, 2017, photo, a bicyclist rides past Penn State's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa. The parents of Penn State student Tim Piazza, 19, who died in a hazing ritual while pledging for Beta Theta Pi, reached a settlement in September 2018 with the fraternity's national organization that provides for reforms. The Beta Theta Pi chapter was permanently banned by the university.
FILE – In this Nov. 9, 2017, photo, a bicyclist rides past Penn State's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa. The parents of Penn State student Tim Piazza, 19, who died in a hazing ritual while pledging for Beta Theta Pi, reached a settlement in September 2018 with the fraternity's national organization that provides for reforms. The Beta Theta Pi chapter was permanently banned by the university.

Numerous arrests

Police arrested almost 30 members of Piazza's Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University in Centre County, Pennsylvania. All higher-level charges have been dropped. Three people have since admitted their guilt to lesser charges and one is already under house arrest.

The Piazzas have reached a settlement with the fraternity to end the civil legal action the family had sought.

Penn State student Marquise Braham, 18, killed himself in 2014. His suicide took place after a series of extreme Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity hazing rituals, about which he had protested to school officials.

Currently, the legal system — and that's the police, district attorneys and judges — "seem to view hazing as it's kind of like kids' stuff," Rich Braham said.

These fathers say they are happy to have found allies at the top of the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. Together, these organizations represent nearly 100 fraternities and sororities nationwide. And their leaders are ready and willing to work with Piazza and Braham.

Judson Horras is the president of the North American Interfraternity Conference. He said a first goal is of this new joint effort is to press lawmakers in all 50 states to strengthen anti-hazing laws. They want lawmakers to make it a felony to force a student to drink alcohol.

Some states reluctant

Some state governments have been slow to strengthen such laws in the past. But Horras said he believes Greek organizations can get them to change their policies.

"Keep in mind fraternities and sororities have 9.1 million students and alumni as members," Horras said. "That's part of the network we're building now to make this happen across North America."

His organization is also trying to solve the alcohol issue itself. By this time next year, he said, highly alcoholic drinks will be banned from all fraternity housing of organization members.

"We can do more together than we can alone to address this societal problem," said Carole Jones, chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference. "The fight against hazing requires that an entire community step up, including sorority women, who can and must do our part to create safer campus cultures."

The Greek life leaders also plan to have parents like Piazza and Braham speak to as many as 25,000 college students this school year. They will talk about the dangers of hazing. And members of fraternities and sororities will be asked to speak to high school and middle school students.

"We realize that it takes many years to change a culture," said Piazza. "We're not going away. We'll be here next year, the year after, the year after that."

See all News Updates of the Day

US Schools Wrestle with Cellphones in Classrooms

Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.
Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.

In California, a high school teacher complains that students watch Netflix on their phones during class. In Maryland, a chemistry teacher says students use gambling apps to place bets during the school day.

Around the country, educators say students routinely send Snapchat messages in class, listen to music and shop online, among countless other examples of how smartphones distract from teaching and learning.

The hold that phones have on adolescents in America today is well-documented, but teachers say parents are often not aware to what extent students use them inside the classroom. And increasingly, educators and experts are speaking with one voice on the question of how to handle it: Ban phones during classes.

"Students used to have an understanding that you aren't supposed to be on your phone in class. Those days are gone," said James Granger, who requires students in his science classes at a Los Angeles-area high school to place their phones in "a cellphone cubby" with numbered slots. "The only solution that works is to physically remove the cellphone from the student."

Most schools already have rules regulating student phone use, but they are enforced sporadically. A growing number of leaders at the state and federal levels have begun endorsing school cellphone bans and suggesting new ways to curb access to the devices.

The latest state intervention came in Utah, where Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, last month urged all school districts and the state Board of Education to remove cellphones from classrooms. He cited studies that show learning improves, distractions are decreased and students are more likely to talk to each other if phones are taken away.

A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.
A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"We just need a space for six or seven hours a day where kids are not tethered to these devices," Cox told reporters this month. He said his initiative, which is not binding, is part of a legislative push to protect kids in Utah from the harms of social media.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school. A law that took effect in July requires all Florida public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Some districts, including Orange County Public Schools, went further and banned phones the entire school day.

Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas have also recently introduced what is becoming known as "phone-free schools" legislation.

And two U.S. senators — Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat — introduced legislation in December that would require a federal study on the effects of cellphone use in schools on students' mental health and academic performance. Theirs is one of several bipartisan alliances calling for stiffer rules for social media companies and greater online safety for kids.

Nationally, 77% of U.S. schools say they prohibit cellphones at school for non-academic use, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But that number is misleading. It does not mean students are following those bans or all those schools are enforcing them.

Just ask teachers.

"Cellphone use is out of control. By that, I mean that I cannot control it, even in my own classroom," said Patrick Truman, who teaches at a Maryland high school that forbids student use of cellphones during class. It is up to each teacher to enforce the policy, so Truman bought a 36-slot caddy for storing student phones. Still, every day, students hide phones in their laps or under books as they play video games and check social media.

Tired of being the phone police, he has come to a reluctant conclusion: "Students who are on their phones are at least quiet. They are not a behavior issue."

A study last year from Common Sense Media found that 97% of kids use their phones during school hours, and that kids say school cellphone policies vary — often from one classroom to another — and aren't always enforced.

For a school cellphone ban to work, educators and experts say the school administration must be the one to enforce it and not leave that task to teachers. The Phone-Free Schools Movement, an advocacy group formed last year by concerned mothers, says policies that allow students to keep phones in their backpacks, as many schools do, are ineffective.

"If the bookbag is on the floor next to them, it's buzzing and distracting, and they have the temptation to want to check it," said Kim Whitman, a co-founder of the group, which advises schools to require phones be turned off and locked away all day.

Some students say such policies take away their autonomy and cut off their main mode of communication with family and friends. Pushback also has come from parents who fear being cut off from their kids if there is a school emergency. Whitman advises schools to make exceptions for students with special educational and medical needs, and to inform parents on expert guidance that phones can be a dangerous distraction for students during an emergency.

Jaden Willoughey, 14, shares the concern about being out of contact with his parents if there's a crisis. But he also sees the upsides of turning in his phone at school.

At Delta High School in rural Utah, where Jaden is a freshman, students are required to check their phones at the door when entering every class. Each of the school's 30 or so classrooms has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"It helps you focus on your work, and it's easier to pay attention in class," Jaden said.

A classmate, Mackenzie Stanworth, 14, said it would be hard to ignore her phone if it was within reach. It's a relief, she said, to "take a break from the screen and the social life on your phone and actually talk to people in person."

It took a few years to tweak the cellphone policy and find a system that worked, said Jared Christensen, the school's vice principal.

"At first it was a battle. But it has been so worth it," he said. "Students are more attentive and engaged during class time. Teachers are able to teach without competing with cellphones. And student learning has increased," he said, citing test scores that are at or above state averages for the first time in years. "I can't definitively say it's because of this policy. But I know it's helping."

The next battle will be against earbuds and smartwatches, he said. Even with phones stashed in pouches, students get caught listening to music on air pods hidden under their hair or hoodies. "We haven't included earbuds in our policy yet. But we're almost there."

Governments Should Recognize the Economic Benefits of International

FILE - Commuters walk across a street in the central business district in Beijing, Aug. 25, 2022. Some academic observers argue that international students play an important role in society.
FILE - Commuters walk across a street in the central business district in Beijing, Aug. 25, 2022. Some academic observers argue that international students play an important role in society.

Several English-speaking countries, including Canada and the U.K., have recently moved to limit international student numbers.

While the potential downsides of student immigration are often reported on, Alan Beattie of The Financial Times argues the upsides aren’t stressed enough. (February 2023)

FAFSA Delays Are Worrying Students and Educators

File - A graduating Boston College student speaks on a phone during commencement ceremonies on May 22, 2023, in Boston. The new version of FAFSA was delayed this year, which could cause a problem for some students.
File - A graduating Boston College student speaks on a phone during commencement ceremonies on May 22, 2023, in Boston. The new version of FAFSA was delayed this year, which could cause a problem for some students.

FAFSA, the federal form used to apply for financial aid, was revamped this year. But the new version has been delayed – and so that could mean a delay in financial aid for many students.

Sarah Wood reports for US News & World Report. (February 2024)

International Student Enrollment in US Surged 13% Last Year

FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

That’s according to 2022-2023 academic year data from Open Doors.

Read more about the surge, including which countries are sending the most students to the U.S., in this summary from Viggo Stacey of The PIE News. (February 2024)

US Campuses Face ‘Transnational Repression’

FILE - A Homeland Security vehicle outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. A citizen of China who is a student at the Berklee College of Music was convicted Jan. 25, 2024, of threatening a person who posted a flyer in support of democracy in China, authorities said.
FILE - A Homeland Security vehicle outside the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston. A citizen of China who is a student at the Berklee College of Music was convicted Jan. 25, 2024, of threatening a person who posted a flyer in support of democracy in China, authorities said.

A new report from Freedom House explains how authoritarian governments try to police and harass students on U.S. campuses.

Read a summary in Karin Fischer’s newsletter for the Chronicle of Higher Education. (January 2024)

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG