On Tuesday, anti-hazing advocate Evelyn Piazza delivered a keynote address to members of Kenyon’s nine Greek life organizations detailing her son’s death at the hands of fraternity members and urging students to consider the catastrophic consequences of hazing. All active Greek life members were required to be present at the talk, while the remainder of the student body was encouraged to attend.
The keynote was originally slated to feature activist Kathleen Wiant, but Piazza stepped in to give the address virtually after Wiant fell ill. Piazza’s activism was catalyzed by the death of her son Timothy in a 2017 hazing incident at Pennsylvania State University. Since then, Piazza has been an outspoken anti-hazing advocate, sharing her son’s and other students’ stories on campuses such as New York University and Louisiana State University. Piazza also campaigned for the passage of the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law, a 2018 law which treats hazing deaths and severe injuries as third-degree crimes in New Jersey.
The keynote address was the central event of Kenyon’s 2023 Hazing Prevention Week, a series of talks, giveaways and events aimed at bringing awareness of hazing to Kenyon students. Hazing has contributed to over 50 deaths on college campuses since 2000. Despite Kenyon’s small size, hazing has still personally affected the campus; in 1905, Delta Kappa Epsilon brother Stuart Pierson died after being tied to railroad tracks and struck by a train.
Piazza began her address by showing a short video that detailed several hazing deaths over the past decade and shared the testimonies from parents who lost children to hazing. It also described the dehumanization and lack of compassion that contributes to hazing deaths via suicide, alcohol poisoning and more. One father, Tom Coffey, highlighted the startling lack of urgency to help his son Andrew, who suffered fatal alcohol poisoning in a crowded party at Florida State University as the result of hazing. “There were an estimated 100 people at that party and 99 of them didn’t help my son,” Coffey said in the video. “Andrew died in a room full of people who just didn’t care.”
Immediately after the video, Piazza recounted the events leading to her own son’s death, during which fraternity members forced him to consume approximately 18 alcoholic beverages, dragged his body into the basement after he fell down a flight of stairs, sat on him to keep him from flailing and refused to contact emergency services.
Piazza implored the audience to imagine themselves losing a loved one in the manner that she did: due to circumstances that were entirely preventable. She asked students to put themselves in the shoes of Timothy’s brother, who called the hospital looking for his brother, contacted his devastated parents upon learning the news of Timothy’s condition and ultimately said goodbye to his only sibling as Timothy succumbed to his trauma in the operating room. She shared that her family was forced to move, as her husband could no longer stand to live in the home that Timothy once lived in. “Everyone’s lives are forever altered and there will always be this hole in your heart because he got hazed, got seriously hurt, and no one was willing to do the right things and call for help,” she said.
Following her testimony as to how hazing devastated her family, Piazza described the levels of hazing that students may endure, ranging from more benign activities such as carrying specific items at all times to life-threatening drinking and drug usage. She emphasized that hazing can have completely unexpected consequences, as those initiating the hazing are typically unaware of the victim’s potential medications, allergies or other medical conditions.
Piazza also explained that while hazing is often viewed in a harmless or comedic light as a way to bring organizations closer together, the majority of Greek life members agreed that hazing did not make them feel closer or more connected to the organization. “Ask yourself if you would do any of these things to your own self or your own sibling — if the answer is no, then why would you be doing it to anyone else?” she asked.
Piazza ended the talk by sharing goals and aspirations that Timothy wrote in a letter to his future self prior to graduating high school. Among his goals were to relax and spend more time with family because he did not know how much time any of them would have left together. She expressed her grief in her familiarity with that sentiment, as her time with her son was cut short due to the lack of awareness and compassion for human life exhibited by the students who hazed him. “Everyone is important. Everyone is worthy of being treated like they matter,” she told attendees. “Put an end to hazing. Make something good come out of something that has been so horribly bad.” As Hazing Prevention Week continues, Vice President of Student Affairs Celestino Limas emphasized the critical role that preventative measures — such as the keynote testimony — play in preventing potential hazing at Kenyon. “It’s wonderful how much our student organizations, athletic teams and this community as a whole, really takes to heart what it means to adhere to any hazing efforts,” he said in an interview with the Collegian. “It further elevates any, for people to be mindful about what it means to get in front of efforts related to hazing before they even occur.”