Frat death shows something is terribly wrong with Greek life

18 fraternity members charged in hazing death
18 fraternity members charged in hazing death

    JUST WATCHED

    18 fraternity members charged in hazing death

MUST WATCH

18 fraternity members charged in hazing death 03:41

Story highlights

  • On Monday, 18 Penn State fraternity brothers were indicted in the death of Timothy Piazza
  • Peggy Drexler: It may be time to reconsider whether every college-aged student should be allowed to join Greek life

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)The more details that emerge about the February death of 19-year-old Penn State sophomore and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza, the clearer it becomes that there is something terribly wrong with Greek life as it exists on many college campuses. And, quite possibly, with kids themselves.

But while a deeply ingrained fraternity culture -- excessive alcohol consumption, hazing activities that encourage severe self-harm -- contributed to the events that led to Piazza's death, there may also have been biological realities at play, too.
Peggy Drexler
As such, it may be time to consider that not every college-aged student is prepared for Greek life. Joining a fraternity or sorority requires a certain degree of maturity and commitment to an organization, which many kids lack at that age. Their brains and their bodies are still evolving.
    Late adolescence and early adulthood -- the "in-between age" -- is a time for developing independence, morality, and identity, but many young people -- particularly males -- are not yet in command of them. Emerging adults are more likely to take risks, particularly to avoid missing out.
    For many students, college represents their first experience living away from home, and the age of helicopter parenting has left them ill-equipped to make good decisions on their own. They are unprepared to act like adults or consider the consequences of their actions, because they've never been asked to -- that's what their parents were for.
    Banning Greek life in its entirety may be extreme, but perhaps limiting entry to upperclassmen -- juniors and seniors who have adjusted to life away from home -- may be a step in the right direction.
    Family of Penn State victim wants justice
    Family of Penn State victim wants justice

      JUST WATCHED

      Family of Penn State victim wants justice

    MUST WATCH

    Family of Penn State victim wants justice 00:53
    If you need convincing, just consider Monday's grand jury indictment of 18 members of Penn State's Beta Theta Pi chapter on 1,000 charges that include aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and hazing, and involuntary manslaughter.
    According to reports, Timothy Piazza's blood alcohol content may have reached as high as 0.36% that night -- a life-threatening amount, said a forensic pathologist. Video surveillance shows that he first fell down a flight of stairs around 11 p.m. In the hours after that, multiple fraternity members saw him in distress. In some cases, they ignored him. In other cases, they slapped him, slammed him onto a couch, threw water on his face and hit him in the stomach. No one called the police until close to 11 a.m. the next day.
    Among the charges also were counts of evidence tampering. The grand jury learned that in the hours after Piazza was taken to the hospital, fraternity members deleted text messages and discussed erasing surveillance video. Which means even in a sober state, many students missed the opportunity to do the right thing.
    Isn't it ironic that a culture which on its surface encourages brotherhood so often does the exact opposite in practice -- at least once alcohol is added to the mix?
    There's been at least one hazing death a year at US colleges for the last 40-plus years. While events like these seem to make the case for banning Greek life entirely, proponents argue that there are still benefits to joining a fraternity, including friendships and career connections that can and often do last a lifetime.
    In an essay on Business Insider, writer Peter Jacobs calls joining a fraternity "one of the best decisions I made in my four years on campus," pointing out that members of Greek organizations also have higher GPAs than non-Greeks, are more likely to stay in school and may be less likely to be lonely or depressed.
    But it may be time to consider that not all kids will reap these benefits -- at least not while they're still undergraduates. Excessive alcohol consumption and the first taste of freedom inhibit many students' abilities to understand that their actions have real-life consequences.
    Follow CNN Opinion

    Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    The Greek system needs a major overhaul. As is made clear again and again, Greek life on most campuses is inextricably linked with alcohol consumption. Why not limit participation to students 21 and older? Certainly, no one of any age needs to be forced to drink excessively or burn one another with hot wax or kill animals, as many Penn State pledges have alleged they were forced to do.
    But let's at least help ensure students are mature enough to know better, or at least know what to do when enough's enough.