The University at Buffalo has lifted its Greek life suspension while also imposing new anti-hazing and oversight regulations on fraternities and sororities.
UB officials on Wednesday announced the findings of their Greek life review committee, which concluded Greek life has a place at UB, but also recommended greater oversight of the university’s 35 fraternal organizations and their approximately 1,000 members.
The internal review, as well as the suspension of all Greek life activities, came in the wake of Sebastian Serafin-Bazan’s death in April. The 18-year-old student went into cardiac arrest and later died after a suspected hazing incident involving fraternity Sigma Pi.
“I would say the university's responsibility is to provide the very best education and to make sure that we provide the safest environment,” said UB Vice President for Student Life A. Scott Weber, “and we do not believe we are fulfilling that promise until we implement these recommendations.”
The committee — made up of professors, administrators and students who studied best practices at universities like Florida State — recommended UB develop a university-wide definition of hazing, and expand its good Samaritan policy to include protections for students who report hazing,
Other recommendations include barring first-semester freshmen from joining fraternities and sororities, mandating Greek life members maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and creating a publicly available scorecard on each fraternity and sorority.
It’s also recommended UB encourage unofficial or illegal fraternal organizations to seek recognition from the university. These fraternities and sororities operate with no oversight despite being removed from campus. UB currently warns about nine such organizations on its website.
The recommendations will be implemented over the course of two years. UB will then evaluate whether the changes have made an impact.
“I don’t think that the recommendations we put forth today are going to put a zero stop to (hazing and other violations),” Weber said, “but I do think that over time … the goal is to reduce those and we’re going to see whether that actually plays out or not over the next couple years.”
In the meantime, now just five days before the start of the fall semester, UB will lift its ban on Greek life activities. While fraternities and sororities can once again hold meetings and events, they will remain on probation during the fall semester and not be allowed to recruit new members.
Sigma Pi will remain suspended pending Buffalo police’s review of the possible hazing incident involving Serafin-Bazan.
The freshman suffered a medical emergency April 12 at Sigma Pi’s fraternity house on Custer Street near UB’s South Campus. He was hospitalized at Buffalo General Medical Center before dying several days later on April 17.
Weber said Serafin-Bazan’s family remains in contact with UB and are looking forward to the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation and UB’s subsequent investigation.
Hazing-related deaths have become hot-button issues at colleges and universities throughout the country. There have been at least 77 fraternity-related deaths since 2005, according to CNN.
The high-profile death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza — whose fraternity brothers reportedly waited more than 12 hours to call 911 after he fell down stairs at a pledging event — led the university to take many of the same steps UB is now taking, like giving fraternal organizations scorecards.
However, a Pennsylvania grand jury report criticized Penn State for turning a blind eye toward Greek life problems and said the reforms did not go far enough.
At UB, there are questions about whether the university can truly ensure Sigma Pi does not continue to operate and that other fraternal organizations on probation don’t recruit.
Weber confirmed the university received reports that some fraternal organizations held events despite the suspension. UB’s independent student newspaper, The Spectrum, reported that one fraternity held a banquet at a downtown restaurant in April.
Weber said that although students are often hesitant to report hazing and other Greek life violations, it’s officials’ hope that that will change.
“Our best watch dogs are our students,” he said. “ … It’s hopefully through our education and oversight and shared responsibility that that culture will gradually shift to where students do feel comfortable.”
The complete committee report can be read here.