Suspension of Greek life at FSU — too much or too little?

Greek life never interested Carl Domino when he attended Florida State University in the 1960s. “I wasn’t the fraternity type,” the former Republican state representative said.

But even Domino was surprised when FSU President John Thrasher decided this week to indefinitely suspend all 54 fraternities and sororities after the alcohol-related death of a Pi Kappa Phi pledge.

“I am curious why he took out the whole system. That seemed a little strange,” said Domino, a Jupiter attorney.

“Obviously when something like this happens, they need to take action. I would think the appropriate action would be against that fraternity and not the whole system.”

Thrasher’s decision is being debated by students and alumni, including many in Palm Beach County, but he is not the first university leader around the country this year to take such a drastic move against Greek organizations after an alcohol-related fatality.

Penn State suspended fraternities and sororities from hosting spring activities after the February hazing death of Timothy Piazza. In September, Louisiana State University imposed a one-month suspension and continues to ban alcohol at Greek parties after the hazing death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver.

On Friday, the body of 20-year-old Andrew Coffey of Lighthouse Point was found the morning after a party attended by more than 50 people at a house near the FSU campus. Tallahassee police suspect alcohol played a role in his death.

“For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life at the university,” Thrasher said Monday, the same day a Phi Delta Theta pledge was arrested by university police and charged with the sale and trafficking of cocaine.

“There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it.”

About 22 percent of FSU undergrads belong to a fraternity or sorority. Thrasher, who pledged FSU’s Sigma Phi Epsilon when he was a student there, hasn’t specified exactly what the fraternities and sororities must do for the suspension to be lifted.

FSU’s Division of Student Affairs in the coming weeks will enact “new measures in collaboration with students and other stakeholder groups,” according to a statement. The timetable for lifting the suspension is up to the student community, Thrasher said.

“They must work with us and demonstrate they fully understand the serious obligation they have to exercise responsible conduct,” he said.

Cultural change needed?

Some local alumni said Thrasher should be applauded for taking a zero-tolerance stance on a serious problem that is prevalent on colleges campuses across the United States.

“I certainly don’t think this is going to be a long-term situation, but I think the message is being sent loud and clear that this change of culture needs to happen and the Greek organizations must take the lead on it,” said Bill Golson, a 1993 FSU graduate who was not part of a fraternity.

Golson said he initially thought the suspension was too drastic, but he embraced it after giving serious thought to the problem of alcohol on college campuses.

Thrasher’s “decision is saying ‘we are not going to brush this under the rug. We’re going to deal with it,”’ said Golson, the parks and recreation director for the Palm Beach County village of Palm Springs.

But other alumni think FSU’s fraternities and sororities should have been given a chance to work on solutions without a systemwide suspension, which comes as the school prepares for homecoming .

“It’s a drastic overreach,” said Palm Beach Gardens lawyer Joe Grant, a Sigma Phi Epsilon brother who graduated in 2003.

“A way to address this would have been to be pro-active about it,” he said, suggesting mandatory alcohol awareness training for pledges.

“Greek life all in all creates stronger links to the university and promotes philanthropy and good work. I don’t know what this is teaching when it basically blames everyone.”

Kelley Diveto, a Kappa Alpha Theta sorority member before she graduated from FSU in 1995, said she agrees that excessive drinking is a problem on campus. But she questioned why the suspension included sororities.

“It was a fraternity issue,” said Diveto, who lives in Boca Raton. “Unless there’s an issue with sororities in general, I think it goes too far.”

Grant said he wonders if FSU officials felt pressure because of the suspensions imposed earlier this year on Greek groups at Penn State and LSU and because of other incidents at Florida universities.

The 2011 hazing death of Florida A&M University band member Robert Champion resulted in a $1.1 million payout to settle a civil lawsuit and the manslaughter conviction of a band member. Champion, 26, died after a hazing ritual in which band members were struck repeatedly as they crossed from the front of a bus to the back.

“I think the microscope got closer on them,” Grant said of FSU, “and they chose to take a path that was drastic and uncalled for.”

Fear of binge drinking

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, an FSU graduate who was not a sorority pledge, said she appreciated Thrasher’s “swift” response. She hopes he will create a task force of students, alumni, substance abuse professionals and campus leaders to find solutions.

“While this is probably a case of a few bad apples among many wonderful, philanthropic-minded students, the only way to begin to address the issue of drug and alcohol abuse on campus is to start the conversation from scratch,” she said.

McKinlay’s son is affected by the suspension, too. He is pledging an FSU fraternity, which she would not identify.

“Binge drinking on campus is prevalent regardless of Greek affiliation,” McKinlay said. “It’s my job as a parent to prepare him to handle these decisions and pray he makes the right choices.”

The University of Florida, which commended Thrasher’s decision, has worked with “campus partners” to educate students on the dangers of alcohol use and abuse, said Janine Sikes, a UF vice president.

A UF freshman died of alcohol poisoning in 2011, and five students died in alcohol-related incidents in a 15-month period from 2004 to 2005. None of those incidents was related to Greek life, Sikes said, but they prompted UF to form the Community Alcohol Coalition, a task force of university, police and city officials, to address the issue.

The UF task force led to the creation of the Medical Amnesty Policy, a program designed to encourage students to make responsible decisions. The medical amnesty program can reduce certain student Code of Conduct consequences for organizations that seek medical assistance, Sikes said.

Joshua Glanzer, assistant vice president for media relations at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, did not respond to messages seeking comment about FSU’s actions.

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