How an FSU Tragedy May Change Greek Life Forever
After a tragic death caused by alcohol-related hazing, FSU and its Greek life organizations are working to ensure no more lives are lost to these dangerous rituals.
Greek life is a staple at many Universities across the country, particularly in the south. Many Universities, such as the University of Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida State, are known for their abundant and present Greek life on the campus. As a freshman in college, I really saw the impact of Greek life at Florida State University (FSU).
Greek life made such a positive impact. With 17 Panhellenic chapters and more than 20 interfraternity chapters, the number of philanthropy events was at least 54 per year. This raises money for many different organizations, ranging from Reading is Fundamental to breast cancer charities. Chapters even join together to create large philanthropy events. At FSU, the largest event was a dance competition between all the Panhellenic chapters, hosted by four or more interfraternity chapters. In 2019, this one event raised over $100,000 for the Victim’s Advocate Program, Veterans Student Union, and the College of Social Science.
Greek life also leads the way for the Dance Marathon event that raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network, which was able to raise over $2 million in 2020. Outside of the philanthropy events, Greek life also makes an impact in FSU events. The homecoming parade is largely composed of Panhellenic and interfraternity chapters partnering up and competing to have the best parade float. The first day of school, all the Panhellenic women would proudly wear their Bid Day shirts they received the day before. They would then all walk and sit together in classes. Freshmen would have their dorm room doors decorated by their sisters and would commonly have lunch and dinner together. The impact of Greek life even made an impact off-campus. I was even able to see the impact of Greek life in the community. Local businesses would provide group discounts on a variety of services, due to the amount of business it would bring.
Beyond Philanthropy and Friendship: Hazing, Substance Abuse, and Death
Seeing all the great impacts and the sense of sisterhood and brotherhood associated with Greek life, I decided to join my sophomore year — spring 2017. That’s when I was able to see the other side of Greek life. During the pledging process, hazing was normal. While I didn’t experience any hazing myself, I was friends with multiple interfraternity men who shared their stories with me. All the stories spoke about being forced to drink until they were so drunk they were unable to walk. This created a culture of teaching substance use disorders. On game days, you could find more students binge drinking at the fraternity houses than being at the stadium. The fall and spring were packed with Greek life events, from date parties and socials to large trips going anywhere from Nola to a cruise. The common denominator between all these events? Alcohol.
On November 2, 2017, shock went through the entire FSU community when one of our own, Andrew Coffey, passed away from alcohol poisoning due to hazing at a fraternity party. Andrew Coffey was a pledge of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. The fraternity was on a chapter liquor ban, but that didn’t stop the fraternity men from finding a way around the rules. By using Lyft and Uber to drive the pledges to an off-campus house party, the chapter avoided both university and national chapter policies. This was “Big Brother Night” according to court records, where pledges were given bottles of liquor to drink. That night, Andrew Coffey drank an entire bottle of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon. Afterward, Andrew passed out on a futon and was later carried inside and left alone. It wasn’t until the next morning that a fellow pledge called 911 after finding him unresponsive. Autopsy results revealed Andrew had a blood alcohol level of 0.447, but it is estimated his level was 0.558 at his time of death. This is seven times the legal limit.
The Shockwave of a Brother’s Death
In response, FSU President John Thrasher shut down Greek life for an indefinite period of time. Thrasher stated, “This pause is needed to review and reflect on the loss of a young life and to implement serious changes.” Everything went silent. Date parties were canceled, Greek life members weren’t allowed to meet up in large groups at their chapter house or anywhere with alcohol present and chapter meetings were nonexistent. The entire Greek community went into recovery and reform. Throughout the remainder of 2017 and spring 2018, chapter members worked tirelessly with the FSU administration to reform how Greek life operated.
The first change made was a limit on the number of events with alcohol each chapter could have per semester. Chapters learned how to pace themselves and create a fun atmosphere without alcohol. For the events with alcohol, chapters were required to register their event to the Greek life administration at FSU. This required the date, place and time of the event, as well as a full list of all attendees with their birthdays listed. This allowed for better control over these events. It also allowed better coverage by police, which enhanced the security and safety of everyone involved. Alcohol training was also required by each chapter. This gave alcohol education to every member of the Greek community. Several topics were covered, from the dangers of drinking to how to pour a standard drink. Additionally, FSU pushed its no-hazing policy further and harder. Any chapter in violation of hazing was kicked off campus, again promoting a safe and healthy social environment.
A Potential for Statewide Reform and Beyond
The tragedy of Andrew Coffey did not just affect FSU. In August 2019, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Andrews Law. According to FSU News, this bill “raises the legal severity of hazing, making the offense a third-degree felony. It also offers amnesty and immunity to individuals to individuals who call 911 or attempt to provide aid to victims of hazing.” This was a critical detail in Andrew Coffey’s death. Last year, Andrew’s mother came to speak to my sorority. At this visit, she stated Andrew “died alone in a room full of people.” Those words have stayed with me, and they enforce the message that if you see something, say something.
The reform is not over. It is an ongoing process at FSU, but it shows that recovery and change is possible. It taught students they don’t need alcohol to have a fun time or make real connections with others. Students also learned how to be responsible around alcohol. Through this process, FSU could pave the way for Greek reform across multiple universities.
Etters, K. “Investigators: Fraternity members coerce[…]y, pledges to drink.” Tallahassee Democrat, January 17, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020.
Lystad, J. “Gone and becoming forgotten: Hazing after Andrew Coffey.” FSU News, September 29, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2020.
Reedy, J. “Florida State suspends all Greek life af[…]ath, cocaine arrest.” Orlando Sentinel, April 6, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2020.