RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Timothy Piazza drank 18 drinks in 82 minutes. He was taking part in a hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State University back in February of 2017. Later that night, he fell down a flight of stairs, and that knocked him unconscious. It was only the next morning when Piazza had trouble walking and standing that fraternity members called an ambulance. The fall had fractured his skull and damaged his spleen. Piazza died a day later.
Three people have now pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in connection to Piazza's death. The only one who's gone through sentencing is facing three months of house arrest and no jail time. Piazza's parents have been campaigning for harsher laws against hazing and a change in drinking culture in Greek life. Last week, Jim and Evelyn Piazza reached a settlement with Beta Theta Pi for an undisclosed monetary amount, along with pledges to reform the fraternity's practices.
It has clearly been an excruciating year-plus. How does it feel to be on the other side of this settlement?
EVELYN PIAZZA: Really, no different.
JIM PIAZZA: The settlement itself is kind of irrelevant and inconsequential to us. It's the reforms that come with the settlement that are meaningful to us.
MARTIN: And I want to talk about those, but before we do, I do want to focus a little bit on Timothy. Can you just tell us what he was like?
E. PIAZZA: He was really smart, really funny, great sense of humor, always looking to make people laugh or smile. He fancied himself quite the basketball player.
J. PIAZZA: (Laughter).
MARTIN: Does that mean he wasn't that good (laughter)?
E. PIAZZA: He liked to pull out football moves.
J. PIAZZA: Yeah. He kind of was a goofy guy. I mean, one of the things that I found to be most telling is we had a bunch of people over right after he passed. And one of the girls that lived next door to him said, you know, Tim is probably the nicest person I've ever met. I really think that's who he was. He was just a really good guy.
MARTIN: Yeah. So let's talk about the settlement agreement. Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity - the organization is committed to making a series of reforms to try and stop anything like this from happening again. Are you satisfied with the changes that they're proposing?
J. PIAZZA: We're as satisfied as we can be. I think the ban on alcohol certainly will be an important differentiator.
MARTIN: The fraternity has pledged to be alcohol-free by 2020.
J. PIAZZA: Yeah, that's right. There's other things we've asked them to do, such as encourage their chapters to have cameras in the house, live-in advisers. I know that it can't be done in every situation because of economics or just sometimes they don't have houses. But, you know, there are a number of benefits to having a live-in adviser. There's a lot of benefits to having the cameras in the house so somebody can monitor it. And that's important.
MARTIN: Is that something that Beta Theta Pi has promised that they will do - put cameras in the house?
J. PIAZZA: They are going to encourage their chapters to do that, but it's not something that I'm just going to let go of either. You know, just a promise to encourage is not good enough for me, so I will be following up on that as well.
MARTIN: I also understand that, more broadly, you're pushing to reform hazing laws around the country. Why are they insufficient as written now?
E. PIAZZA: It's not a felony in but a few states. And if it was a felony, then students would know, hey, if I commit this crime, I could go away for seven years. And it needs to be enforced.
J. PIAZZA: Yeah. And also, if it's a felony, I mean, it just takes away some of your rights as a U.S. citizen, and that's important. There are a number of states that have hazing laws on the books now where they're misdemeanors. And they do carry with it jail time and fairly significant fines, but the enforcement of those laws is critically important. And we haven't seen enough enforcement of that at this point, so that's where we think we can make a great impact now.
MARTIN: You said that you are not going to take anything for granted, that you, yourself, are going to follow up to make sure that the fraternity implements these changes. Should that have to fall to you? I mean, are you concerned that there isn't an actual accountability mechanism here?
J. PIAZZA: Yeah. I mean, I have a healthy skepticism about everything, unfortunately. I mean, you know, we've dealt with a tragedy. So should it fall to me? Yeah, probably not. But if I have to insert myself into that process, I will. And, you know, I know people who have children that go to different schools throughout the country, and they will be eyes and ears for us. And we see things that aren't right, that they're not following the reforms that they promised, we will speak up and step in.
MARTIN: Jim and Evelyn Piazza, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
E. PIAZZA: Thanks.
J. PIAZZA: Thank you.
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