10 years later, Greek Life on the mend

A plaque outside Lake House, the former home of Phi Kappa Tau, honors Gary DeVercelly, who died in a fraternity hazing incident.

By Theresa Evans

More than 10 years ago, a Rider freshman died at the hands of fraternity hazing, altering the campus’ culture.

Gary DeVercelly’s death also affected campus alcohol policies, and Rider has since made an effort to educate the student body on the dangers of substance abuse.

“Susan Stahley [substance abuse and sexual assault prevention coordinator] does an excellent job every orientation of educating new students on the way students can be safe and smart on- and off-campus in regards to substance and alcohol abuse,” said John Modica, junior English major and Theta Chi secretary. “Her creativity and dedication to delivering that education all year round is phenomenal, but she can only do so much. The rest of that education relies on cooperation between our students to have honest conversations with one another.”

Each year, the Rider University Greek Council takes part in National Hazing Prevention Week, according to Amanda Eisele, assistant director of campus life for fraternity and sorority life. Each chapter is required to participate in hazing prevention and risk management programming.

“I strongly believe a Greek community should be the absolute safest place on a college campus,” said Eisele. “We commit to values and principles that other student organizations do not. It is our responsibility to care for the safety of brothers, sisters and non-Greeks alike. No Greek community is perfect, but I believe our chapters are on the right path.”

According to Modica, the Student Government Association urges students to engage in campus policies and cultural conversations.

“Gary DeVercelly’s death was tragic, and it should be a reminder about the dangers of hazing and binge drinking,” Modica said. “But regardless of whether it represented a culture Rider had then, it does not represent what Rider is now, nor should university policy and procedure reflect such a severe case.”

Students would prefer the university’s alcohol policy to contain “more specific guidelines and more individualized penalties,” according to Modica.

“Alcohol policies are necessary and beneficial to a campus climate, but Rider’s culture is perceived as hawkish,” he said. “That stems from our policy’s oddly specific punishments but ambiguous determinations of what constitutes a Tier 1 or Tier 2 violation. At [The College of New Jersey], kegs and containers over 32 ounces are the guidelines for inappropriate amounts of alcohol. We need a similar determination. It’s not fair for that line to be drawn at the discretion of a hearing officer.

“Additionally, all cases should be handled by a judiciary board that hands out individualized punishments based on the student’s case, rather than following a structured system of violations that may not reflect the true nature of the incident.”

DeVercelly’s death affected Greek life and the Rider community as a whole, according to sophomore digital media major and Sigma Phi Epsilon member Austin Morford.

“I really do believe that Rider’s efforts to educate about alcohol and substance abuse throughout the campus has helped, but when I joined Sigma Phi Epsilon, the education and mandatory meetings about alcohol and substance abuse increased and were more intense,” said Morford.

Modica said he is proud of the culture created on campus and the protective nature at events.

“Regardless of what Greek Life was before Gary’s death, I can speak to the present,” Modica said. “We have a community of incredible leaders and servants dedicated to bringing out the best in one another. Humiliation, violence and degradation are not and never will be part of that tradition.

“I always see Rider students at parties and functions actively making sure everyone is safe. We have an excellent community of students who genuinely care about their peers. The university needs to trust that its students will continue to care for one another, and in turn, needs to support students in enjoying the social benefits college has to offer.”

Senior Tau Kappa Epsilon member Eric Kingsland has noticed the growth within both Greek life and Rider’s community.

“Any time prohibition is practiced, it leads to unsafe behavior and consumption,” said Kingsland.

Sophomore Phi Sigma Sigma member Lindsay Attner, a sophomore health care management major believes that the new changes to the alcohol policy have been beneficial to the Rider community.

“I think it’s good that they are being stricter because it will help prevent accidents like Gary DeVercelly’s,” said Attner. “By not having alcohol in sororities and frats, it can help prevent underage drinking.”

“Rider Greek Life is exceptional in eliminating hazing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t constantly be on our radar,” said Modica. “Everyone in this community needs to be vigilant in educating themselves about hazing and claiming responsibility to prevent it.”

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