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Penn State bans alcohol at frat parties

Pennsylvania State University this week banned fraternity parties serving alcohol following the death of a student last weekend and mounting concerns of a task force looking into Greek life on the University Park campus.

The university gave no time line for the moratorium but said it will last until new policies and practices can be put in place.

"This is just a way to gain some time to take a look at the issues," said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

The ban was announced Wednesday, four days after the death of Timothy Piazza, 19, a sophomore engineering major from Lebanon, N.J., who according to authorities was intoxicated and fell down a stairwell during a fraternity party Thursday night. Members of that fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, didn't call for help until about 12 hours later, and the fraternity has since been suspended.

Penn State's Interfraternity Council and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said in a joint announcement that the death along with "growing allegations of misconduct in these organizations, including hazing and sexual assault" led to the moratorium.

The university in September 2015 established a task force to look into Greek life after allegations that Kappa Delta Rho members posted pictures of nude and partially nude women - some who appeared to be sleeping or passed out — on private Facebook pages. The task force has not yet issued a report, Powers said.

"With the ban on social activities underway, we are working to put in place new measures with the concurrence of the undergraduate fraternity and sorority leadership, since they must own implementation," Sims said in a statement. "The recent tragedy has of course driven momentum for change. We are prepared to compel change to the extent we can. The Task Force also has surfaced a number of good ideas that can be implemented. We will have more to say on this matter as we complete our work with student leaders."

University officials couldn't say definitively whether it's the first time an alcohol ban has been initiated at the 46,000-student campus, known for its active Greek life system and social life.

"I can't find anything in our archives," Powers said.

But the move is not without precedent elsewhere.

The College of Charleston halted alcohol-related events at fraternities and sororities last August. The University of California at Berkeley instituted a ban in 2005, and Colorado State University took the same step in 2004 after a student death.

At Penn State, both the Interfraternity Council, a student group, and the student affairs office will conduct spot visits in the public areas of the fraternity houses to enforce the ban, the university said.

When asked to comment, the North-American Interfraternity Conference approved the steps taken.

"We are encouraged to see Penn State fraternity leaders working in concert with the university to evaluate social policies and practices in their community," the national group said in an email. "The way these students have pulled together in a trying time shows commitment to student safety and self-governance."

About 12 percent of Penn State students belong to nearly 90 fraternities and sororities.

Piazza's funeral was set for Saturday. A candlelight vigil was planned in his honor at Penn State on Sunday evening.

Piazza's death was being investigated by State College police, who were called to the fraternity house at 10:49 a.m. on Friday and found Piazza unconscious.  Fraternity members told police that Piazza, while intoxicated, fell down the basement stairs around 11 p.m. Thursday.

Piazza was transported to Mount Nittany Medical Center and later flown to Hershey Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on Saturday morning.
State College police said they were working with Penn State's student affairs office as part of its investigation.

The Dauphin County Coroner performed an autopsy and ruled that Piazza died from injuries he suffered in an accidental fall, the Centre Daily Times reported.

His brother, Michael, wrote on Facebook: "I am utterly devastated. My brother was my best friend."

He added, "He was the most vibrant person I knew, and his sole mission in life was to make other people smile. The impact he had on people is so astounding."