On Wednesday, Oct. 30, Villanova students gathered in the Finneran Pavilion to listen to Jim and Evelyn Piazza speak about hazing prevention. The Piazzas lost their son, Tim, to hazing at his fraternity house in February of 2017. Since then, they have been traveling around the country to spread anti-hazing efforts and pass legislation to deter hazing on college campuses.
Father Bernie Scianna, Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life on campus, opened the evening by introducing Mr. and Mrs. Piazza and leading the crowd in prayer. University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. continued the speakers’ introduction and, with a serious tone, stressed the importance of our Villanova community. Specifically, he underlined how hazing has no place here. “At Villanova, we talk a lot about community,” he said, “hazing is one of the ways we are tearing that community down.” Donohue went on to call on students to be wise enough, mature enough and bold enough to say no to hazing in our community. He commented on how fitting it was to host this presentation in the Pavilion. He spoke of how many times he has been witness to students shouting, “Not in our house!” at visiting basketball teams and how this is exactly the stance we need to take as a student body against hazing.
Before concluding, Donohue invited the chapter president of Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity that Tim Piazza was involved in at Penn State, to finish introducing Mr. and Mrs. Piazza. Tommy Nevin briefly touched on the staggering statistics surrounding college students and hazing as he noted more than 50% of students involved in college organizations experience hazing. He then turned the podium over to the Piazzas.
Mr. and Mrs. Piazza emotionally recounted the tragic events that led to the death of their son on February 4, 2017. Tim was a sophomore engineering student at Penn State University where he had recently pledged the Beta Theta Pi fraternity earlier that year. On the first night of pledging, Tim received a text that asked him to immediately report to the fraternity house. Upon arrival, he and the other pledges were forced to drink one handle of vodka individually before going through a drinking obstacle course named “The Gauntlet.” Video footage that the brothers of the chapter had covered up was later revealed by the FBI and included footage that Tim had 18 alcoholic drinks in a span of 82 minutes. His blood alcohol level the next morning at the hospital was about 0.4%, over four times the legal limit for drivers in the state of Pennsylvania. Because of his extreme intoxication, Tim fell down the basement steps of the fraternity house and sustained many of his eventually fatal injuries. After the fraternity brothers carried Tim up the stairs and left him on a couch, several members were concerned and thought to seek help. Their requests were denied by older brothers. Tim was not taken to the hospital until the next morning where he had emergency surgery. However, in the end, his internal bleeding and brain swelling were too severe to control. Tim was pronounced dead the morning of February 4, 2017 with his loved ones around him in the hospital room. The only organ that had the potential to be donated was his kidney as that was the only one left undamaged by the trauma.
The Pavilion was silent as all eyes and ears intently focused on the Piazzas as they retold the details surrounding the tragic death of their son. The Piazzas continued their presentation by switching the narrative to the logistics of hazing and introduced tools to combat it in our community. Mr. Piazza defined hazing and focused on the end of the definition: “regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” He highlighted this phrase to emphasize that the terminology involved in hazing laws does not allow anyone who hazes to get away with the argument that those hazed consented to the activities; in other words, even if someone is willing to participate, those who led the hazing can still be prosecuted. Mr. Piazza went on to project a list of questions to ask, “Is this hazing?” if students ever find themselves uncomfortable and unsure. He also touched on the manners and types of hazing with an emphasis on alcohol related hazing, as it is the most common form, as well as the psychology of hazing and how it has to do with power and a feeling of control.
The consequences of hazing vary across states, but in many it is met with harsh felony charges that can affect college, family finances, and one’s later career. Some of these are consequences that many of the men charged in the death of their son are now suffering, the Piazzas mentioned. They are fiercely working to ensure stricter hazing laws across states with the hope that more severe consequences will deter students from engaging in this dangerous behavior.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to put an end to it,” Mr. Piazza announced to students. “Make a call and you can potentially save a family from the unimaginable pain that we live through every day.”
This emotional plea was the beginning of the description of the consequences the Piazzas have been experiencing because of hazing. They spoke about the painful details that their new holidays now bring; they used to love Thanksgiving and Christmas but now , with an empty seat at the dinner table, they cannot bear to spend these special family days at their home, so they go away. Mr. Piazza reminisced about spending time with Tim at the beach and told students how he cherished their time throwing the football together. He said that he does not like going to the beach anymore because it reminds him of his son. “Our whole lives have changed,” he said bluntly, “It’s not a new normal. We have a new life but it’s not normal.”
The Piazzas concluded their powerful story with the hope that they have instilled a desire for change in the crowd. They implored students to simply “care enough,” so that something like what happened to their son does not happen here at Villanova. The most important thing to take away from their presentation, they said, was to do the right thing and call 911 if you are concerned about someone.
To close, they used their son Tim’s own words that he wrote to himself in a letter during his junior year of high school; “Contact family more. I don’t know how long any of us will be around, but cherish everyone.” The Piazza family’s tragedy and fight for change in their son’s name was deeply moving and produced a standing ovation. Their message resonated with students here at Villanova and they urged anyone interested in becoming involved with their mission to visit liveliketim.org.