How Penn State Greek reforms have impacted State College neighbors

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How Penn State Greek reforms have impacted State College neighborsNew measures put in place to curb dangerous activities in Greek life at Penn State have, in part, led to a calmer and quieter existence in the Highlands neighborhood, where most fraternity houses are located.

"Penn State's recent reforms with respect to Greek life have helped improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods in an immense and meaningful way," Mayor Don Hahn said in a statement. "I am appreciative of the Penn State administration, especially President Eric Barron and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, for seeing the need to and following through on the commitment to change the Greek system for the better. I look forward to continuing to work with Penn State, its fraternities, its students and alumni, and our community members to continue to make positive strides forward for both Penn State and State College."

Those Greek changes — spurred by the February 2017 hazing death of 19-year-old Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza — mostly went into effect at the beginning of fall semester. The new measures include, among other efforts, university monitoring, deferred recruitment and social restrictions (which went into effect spring 2017), like no daylong parties.

According to the borough, between Aug. 17, 2015, and May 8, 2016, there were 1,043 total crime reports in the Highlands neighborhood. In about the same period in 2017, there were 906, and between Aug. 14 and May 6, 2018, there were 821.

Total cases at fraternities are down by 31 percent in a two-year period, and down by 20 percent in the past year alone, said Tom Fountaine, borough manager.

Noise complaints are down in the Highlands 13 percent over the two-year period, he said, and noise at fraternities is down 20 percent over the same period.

It's a "significant" reduction in the quality of life issues that the borough tracks, Fountaine said.

What residents have told the borough has been "very positive," he said, and they've said there's been a noticeable difference in the past year.

For some neighbors, living among the fraternity houses had already been a good experience.

Peg Hambrick, a resident of the Highlands neighborhood for more than 15 years, coordinates the Neighbor to Neighbor program — where interested families get partnered with a fraternity, a way for permanent residents and fraternity members to connect on a personal level.

Neighbor to Neighbor launched in 2010, with five Highlands families and five fraternities. Now, Hambrick said, there are about 25 permanent resident partners paired with fraternities.

She and her husband are partnered with Sigma Phi Epsilon, and the relationship varies from year to year as the fraternity gets a new president. Last year, on a snow day, some of the "guys" from Sig Ep shoveled their walk. Every December, they host a dinner for the fraternity leadership at their home. They get invited to the fraternity's Parents Weekend festivities. And during finals week, Hambrick dropped off cookies at the fraternity house.

Daniel Lee, Penn State Interfraternity Council vice president for communications, said in an email that relationships with neighbors vary from chapter to chapter and are informal, as they're supposed to interact like "normal neighbors" would.

"For me, and my husband, getting to know the guys that are in our fraternity has really helped me be much more understanding of the whole dynamic of being a student today. … Both my husband and I are in our 70s so we've been away from being a student ourselves for a long time," Hambrick said. "So really it's been helpful for me to understand what it's like for young people to be at a very large university and to need to make connections.

"I think that to have personal empathy for each other is important and the more we know each other, the more likely that is to happen."

She said she thinks that the fraternities provide a positive energy in the neighborhood.

Fountaine said the IFC leadership has always had a strong commitment to work with the borough, university and community.

What might've changed more than anything in the past year, he said, is a recognition and different attitude and approach by the overall Greek membership.

The underlying, fundamental issues that resulted in the tragedy of Piazza's death are finally being addressed, Fountaine said.

*Courtesy of CDT


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