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Hazing Expert: FSU Greek Ban Could Hurt Alumni Giving, Support

A three-tier foundain stands behind bold words that spell 'The Florida State University.'
Florida State University
Florida State University

Florida State University Greek fraternities and sororities are indefinitely suspended following the recent death of a pledge. President John Thrasher is defending the decision but not everyone is certain he’s right.

The organizations are banned from holding formal activities including participating in homecoming, pledging or hosting official meetings. Members will still be allowed to live in their homes. Florida State University President John Thrasher says the move is meant to send a message to Greek organizations.

“We’ve got a serious problem and we’ve got to deal with it. And they’re part of the solution. And the sooner they can come to the table and we can all talk and find those solutions, the sooner this will be lifted.”

Thrasher says he’s tried talking to the groups before but, “I just feel like, for whatever reason, the message is not getting through. And I want to take a pause and lets reflect on what we need to do about the culture of Florida State University.”

The move comes after 20-year-old pi Kappa Phi fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey died after attending an off campus party. Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo says alcohol may have played a role.

“Investigators have interviewed more than 50 people and many additional interviews are planned. Although there are indicators that alcohol may have been a factor in this case, we are waiting for the results of an autopsy, so no cause of death has been determined.” 

Another issue law enforcement has to determine is whether Coffee was coerced into the actions that led to his death.

“I think what would be interested to me is if there was coercion for the pledge to drink. That’s the bottom line, because then we’re going into a criminal hazing issue," says hazing expert Hank Nuwer.

Nuwer teaches at Franklin College and hosts a website that tracks hazing across the U.S. and internationally. He’s written several books on the topic including his latest simply titled: “Hazing.”

In a separate and unrelated case, FSU student and fraternity member, Garret Marcy of Phi Delta Theta was charged with selling drugs after university police executed a search warrant at his frat house apartment. And shortly after the university announced the arrest of 22-year-old student Daniel Martin, a member of Pi Kappa Phi, which is the same fraternity Andrew Coffey was pledging when he died. Both students are facing charges related to the sale and possession of cocaine.

Thrasher says the ban on greek life will remain until there is a new culture in place for the organizations. But already the decision is generating controversy, with some hailing it as the right move while others saying it’s a step too far.

“Sororities…it’s not the same there. To ban fraternities and sororities together doesn’t strike me as the best policy," Nuwer said.

He says it may be better to have a task force of faculty, staff and students to get together to assess the culture because there are differences from fraternity to fraternity and school to school. And then there’s the issue of money. He says when Alfred University banned Greek life they saw a drop in alumni giving and support.

“They will lose alumni participation but it can come back quickly. At Alfred…I have the dean doing an essay on what the effect was to get rid of Greek organizations. Certainly more schools are thinking about it.”

The move comes as Florida State prepares to welcome alumni and parents for its upcoming homecoming events and game.