Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
Florida State University's Greek life suspension is great for the school, but it's tragically inconsequential for students. When a student dies, it's only natural to look for someone to blame. In the case of FSU's Andrew Coffey, the most obvious target is fraternities.
His death follows a string of others involving binge drinking and hazing. Fraternities are almost always involved, and there is a clear correlation between Greek life and tragedy, but blaming fraternities and sororities alone downplays the role of students. If universities want to prevent tragedies, they should focus on the students on their campus rather than on the national organizations they belong to.
Fraternities and sororities are essentially bureaucracies at the national level, and in many chapters, their influence rarely extends beyond letters on a door. FSU's suspension of Greek life primarily targets those bureaucracies by banning Greek life events, but what about students acting outside Greek organizations? They're not impacted. The students who make tragedies possible are not affected.
So the next time an FSU student dies from binge drinking or hazing, it won't be directly linked to the university, but it'll be another tragedy. Greek life may be gone for now, but the culture is the same. The university is distancing itself from future incidents but doing nothing to prevent them.
I am not alleging that FSU president John Thrasher made his decision selfishly. He might genuinely think indefinitely suspending Greek life will make a difference, but the university benefits more than the students. Just because Greek life is not officially sanctioned by the university doesn't mean that hazing and binge drinking will stop. Those behaviors are driven by students, not Greek life itself.
Universities need to be willing to address the toxic cultures that lead to dangerous behavior. Steps like the University of Maryland's responsible action policy, which encourages students to get help for medical emergencies involving drugs and alcohol, are far more effective in preventing tragedy than banning fraternities.
Although FSU already has a similar policy, both it and this university's could certainly be expanded upon. For example, FSU's protections do not apply in any way to hazing incidents. While policymakers would be irresponsible to allow medical amnesty to act as cover for hazing, students who are willing to report such incidents should have some kind of protection.
Believing that banning Greek life will stop deaths and injuries requires an unrealistically optimistic view of students. Such policies imply that fraternity and sorority members are uniformly victims of a callous national system. While Greek organizations themselves are not innocent, the unnerving truth is that the people at fault are ultimately students.
Blaming fraternities and sororities for the actions of students is not only dishonest but coddling. It simultaneously undermines the gravity of their decisions and encourages them to make dangerous ones. When students are directly responsible for the deaths of other students, whether or not they belong to a fraternity shouldn't matter. Students who fail to stand up against dangerous practices should face the bulk of the consequences.
We are faced with a parade of senseless tragedies on university campuses. The deaths of Tim Piazza and Tucker Hipps and Ryan Abele and Maxwell Gruver and Nolan Burch and Michael Walker — and now Andrew Coffey — could have been prevented. Instead of distancing themselves from these tragedies by just banning Greek life, universities must put in the work to change campus culture.
Policies to encourage action and serious consequences for students could save lives, but they require universities to accept that these tragedies are the products of campus culture. Protecting students who report injuries due to hazing would encourage fraternity members to act before it's too late. Coupling the protections with strong and clearly communicated punishments — even as extreme as expulsion — for students encouraging hazing would erode the culture of irresponsibility that leads to deaths. This is not a problem with fraternities and faceless national bureaucracies. It's a problem with people.
Nate Rogers is a freshman computer science major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.