Last night, around 600 students and faculty gathered in Alumni Gym to hear Evelyn and Jim Piazza speak about hazing prevention.
Timothy Piazza, a Pennsylvania State University student who died as a result from hazing in February 2017, was their son. He was a pledge in Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
The speech, called “Love, Mom and Dad: Turning Tragedy into Progress,” challenged audience members to gain a new perspective on hazing.
Hope Koene, a member of SPARKS and a friend of Piazza's, organized the event as part of National Hazing Prevention Week. She spoke about her memories of him in high school.
“What you should know about Tim is that no matter where he went, you could guarantee he could make someone laugh,” Koene said. “Tim had a fierce sense of loyalty, and you could see it in how much he valued his friendships, his football and track teammates and especially in his love for his girlfriend.”
Koene introduced the Piazzas by shedding light on how they have turned tragedy into progress.
“Despite all the tragedy and loss that resulted in Tim’s death, I am awestruck with the efforts of his parents and their dedication to Tim’s memory,” Koene said.
Jim and Evelyn Piazza began their speech with a video detailing Piazza’s story – the news coverage, the court trials and the family's determination to hold those responsible accountable.
The Piazzas asked students in the audience to put themselves in the shoes of Timothy’s brother, then led the audience through the story of Tim’s death – the hazing ritual, the injuries, the betrayal from his fraternity brothers, the confusion and ultimately, the tragic devastation.
“A nurse pulls your mom forward and tells her to kiss her baby goodbye,” Evelyn said. “He goes into cardiac arrest again. And you let him go. Think about this being your loss. Think about the funeral, having your brother cremated. Think about losing your best friend, your only sibling. Why? Because he was hazed.”
The Piazzas talked about their son as a person who left a mark in others' lives.
“He wasn’t a risk taker. He wasn’t a drinker. He was a good student,” Evelyn said. “He had a longtime girlfriend who he was planning a future with. He had great friends and roommates. He had plans for his future at school and his career. So what happened? He was an amazing person who was hazed and then ignored, tortured and left to die because the fraternity did not want to get in trouble.”
This week would have been Piazza’s 21st birthday. Jim said he wished he was able to celebrate with his son.
In the last decade, there have been 41 hazing deaths, according to the Piazzas. The couple broke down the hazing laws around the country, saying North Carolina’s laws are weak. They are currently working on legislature, called the Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Legislation, that would classify hazing as a felony punishable up to seven years in prison and up to $15,000.
The Piazzas said hazing happens every day – but nobody pays attention until someone dies.
“You wake up thinking, ‘He’s not here.’ You go to bed thinking, ‘He’s not here,’” Evelyn said.
But hazing can also leave serious physical and psychological effects. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and long-term health effects can result from hazing.
The Piazzas told students ways they could help to prevent hazing. They suggested to talk to family and friends, follow your values, say no to hazing, report hazing to 1-800-NOT-HAZE and call 911 if someone is in immediate danger.
“Taking action takes courage,” Jim said. “It’s not always easy. Speaking up is not always the easy thing, but it is the right thing.”
To finish their speech, the Piazzas offered different ways of building tradition instead of hazing – having a sleepover and cooking breakfast or watching one movie every year – to build a real community.
The audience met the couple's speech with a standing ovation.
For more information on the Piazzas and hazing prevention, be sure to follow our website for an in-depth story coming out this Wednesday.