Zingg gets tough on Greeks

Addressing members of Chico’s Greek system Sunday night, Chico State University President Paul Zingg made his point clear, “You are either part of the solution—collectively and every day—or you are part of the problem.”

During his brief (eight minutes) but intense address, Zingg told the nearly 850 fraternity and sorority members in attendance at the Bell Memorial Union auditorium that the university would not wait for another tragic incident or another abusive act to occur before declaring its position on pledging and hazing rituals.

Those in the packed BMU sat silent as Zingg announced that the university will review the entire Greek system, which would include examining its membership behavior, rush practices and even its very existence.

Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Moon and a leadership team are to carry out the review, which Zingg said would be completed by the end of the spring semester.

Zingg, whose voice quavered at times, said the Greek system had the option to either be a partner in finding solutions or a problem to be eliminated.

“You really have no choice in this matter if you expect the Greek system to survive here,” Zingg said.

Zingg, a former member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said unity, respect and integrity are among several compelling values that the Greek letters stand for.

He told students their individual ideals and standards must mirror the collective actions of the Greek system.

“If you are not whom you claim to be, then you are frauds,” Zingg said. “And there is no place here for those who do not live by their own promises.”

Zingg’s speech was delivered in the wake of the Feb. 2 hazing death of 21-year-old Chico State student Mathew Carrington, who died from water intoxication while pledging at the Chi Tau fraternity. Carrington’s death came only two weeks after 19-year-old Butte College student Richard Amador nearly died from alcohol poisoning at the Sigma Chi fraternity house.

Sigma Chi President Blake Peltz was the one who rushed Amador to Enloe Medical Center, where the pledge was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.496.

Peltz said the hard stance of President Zingg has forced the Greek system to pay attention.

“I think it’s causing a lot of organizations to look within,” Peltz said after the presentation.

An alcohol poisoning incident early Saturday morning added fuel to the fire. Two nights before Zingg’s speech, police and fire units answered a call from the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at 1:06 a.m., after members discovered a female passed out in the house.

Tara Johnson, an 18-year-old freshman, was taken Enloe Medical Center, where she was found to have a dangerously high blood-alcohol level of 0.348 percent.

Chico Police Sgt. Dave Barrow said charges of being drunk in public have been filed with the District Attorney’s Office.

Barrow said that, according to witnesses, the woman, a pledge at Sigma Kappa, did not drink at the fraternity house, but was seen drinking at the Sigma Kappa sorority house at approximately 11 p.m. Friday night.

“The indication was that she was there for a rush party,” Barrow said.

It is unknown if President Zingg was aware of the incident prior to giving his speech Sunday night.

At the conclusion of Zingg’s address, the documentary Unless a Death Occurs: Hazing Examined was shown. The film documents the 2003 death of Walter Dean Jennings, an 18-year-old freshman at Plattsburgh State University in New York State. Jennings also died from water intoxication while pledging at the Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity, which, like Chi Tau, was unrecognized by the university.

Eleven members of the fraternity were charged and expelled from the university and ordered to help with the making of the film. The Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity house was also shut down and sold.

Appearing in the documentary was Hank Nuwer, author and a national expert on hazing, who said a long-term plan must be implemented in order stop pledge-related deaths, which have averaged more than one per year since 1975.

In a phone interview this week, Nuwer said there have been many powerful speeches in the past by university presidents, but that they provide only short-term results. He strongly suggests that university presidents across the nation work with undergraduates in order to provide some sort of long-term plan.

After Sunday evening’s presentation, Inter-Fraternity Council President Nick Hollingsworth said that, in light of the two hazing incidents this semester, he believes the president will follow through with shutting down the Greek system if changes aren’t made.

Hollingsworth said his council asked Zingg to speak because they knew people would listen.

"Everything he said, he meant. And I hope everyone gets the message."