By Nick Wilson
Cal Poly will hire two new staff members to advise fraternity and sorority members on responsible social behavior in the wake of a student’s fraternity-related death in December. It’s one of several steps the university is taking to try to prevent situations like the one that led to the death of 18-year-old Carson Starkey. Starkey died of alcohol poisoning after allegedly being hazed as he pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Four students were arrested Thursday in connection with the death, and a university official said Starkey’s story will help poignantly instruct other students on what not to do in the future.
The university is conducting a national search for the new staff, who will be paid a combined $125,000 a year, including benefits, said Stephan Lamb, the university’s associate director of student life and leadership.
“We hope to have them on board by Aug. 1,” he said, noting that the university is using general fund resources to pay for them.
Students in Greek organizations also must sign agreements with the university to comply with a strict policy of no hazing and a risk-management plan for any alcohol-related event, Lamb said. Groups that violate the agreement will face scrutiny from campus officials and risk suspensions from recruiting new members on campus as well as disaffiliation from the university. Individuals also will risk losing their affiliation with Cal Poly for any improper behavior.
Lamb said it’s difficult to know everything that happens off campus, and the university doesn’t have authority to stop a party off campus, though officials can try to deter one if they find out about it in advance. But officials can work with members on being responsible and will revoke charters or implement other disciplinary action if necessary - particularly if police reports describe reckless or illegal behavior.
Cal Poly revoked SAE’s charter indefinitely and said this week that nine students have either permanently withdrawn from the university or have been suspended for at least one year as a result of the investigation into Starkey’s death. Greek organizations at Cal Poly now are strictly prohibited from having alcohol-related activities during the pledging process. Should they violate this rule, they likely wouldn’t continue to exist on campus, Lamb said.
But for off-campus events that don’t involve pledges and where members who are older than 21 are drinking, the new Greek compliance agreement says the groups must card attendees so underage students aren’t served alcohol, and must keep a certain percentage of partygoers sober to drive.
University officials already warn fraternity and sorority members, including pledges, of the dangers of binge drinking and other activities through talks and videos.
Since Starkey’s death on Dec. 2, the university has held four forums involving Greek students to try to change unhealthy culture and traditions that may still exist within the groups - including hazing. Much of those talks were targeted at leaders of the organizations who have the potential to strongly influence other students in their groups. These kinds of programs will be expanded next year, officials say.
University officials said that they have looked into banning Greek organizations from the campus, but found that at colleges where this has occurred, the groups operate independently of officials, which can be even more dangerous.