Two mothers of students who died because of fraternity hazing spoke at a program in the Queally Center Breed Pavilion on Wednesday evening.
Rae Ann Gruver and Evelyn Piazza, the mothers of Max Gruver and Tim Piazza, shared the stories of their sons’ deaths and emphasized the dangers of hazing and the importance of reporting it.
The program’s two sessions were split by college affiliation, which Meg Pevarski, associate director of Greek Life, said was intended to avoid students thinking that the content applied only to one college. Westhampton College students attended from 6-7 p.m., and Richmond College students attended from 7:30-8:30 p.m.
Gruver and Piazza described their sons’ personalities and interests before talking about the nights their sons died. Max Gruver attended Louisiana State University and died in September 2017. Tim Piazza attended Pennsylvania State University and died in February 2017.
Gruver spoke steadily, although she stopped at points to collect herself, such as when she described a hazing ritual where pledges had to recite the Greek alphabet. If they made a mistake, they had to drink Diesel, a 190-proof alcohol.
“Every time they got to Max,” Gruver said, voice breaking, “he messed up. He couldn’t remember ‘upsilon.’ It was the only letter of the Greek alphabet he had to remember – ‘upsilon.’”
Piazza asked the audience to put themselves in her family’s shoes and told the story from the perspective of Tim Piazza’s brother.
“Close your eyes and imagine that your brother’s going to pledge a fraternity, and it started last night,” she began.
“You get a call from your brother’s roommate saying he didn’t come home last night, and that’s not like him,” she said. “You decide something’s wrong, and call the hospital to see if he’s there. They say yes, there’s been an accident.”
The detailed accounts deeply affected some audience members.
Gruver and Piazza both highlighted the importance of reporting incidents of hazing.
“Hazing is everyone in this room’s problem,” Gruver said. “Therefore, it’s everyone’s responsibility. … [People] might not remember what organization it was that it happened to, but they’re going to remember that it happened on this campus.”
During the program, Gruver referred to the indefinite suspension of Sigma Chi fraternity’s chapter at the University of Richmond in March 2019, following a hazing investigation.
Pevarski said the suspension spurred UR to look for alternative ways to increase awareness about hazing. This search ultimately led to Wednesday’s program, which Pevarski first heard at a conference she attended in February 2019 with Panhellenic Council student leaders.
Reed Burke, a junior in Greek life, also agreed that it was important to bring anti-hazing programs to smaller schools like UR, not just to big schools like Penn State.