Sometimes, history shouldn’t have to repeat itself.
Thirteen years ago, Michael Tobin, a 1994 College graduate, fell to his death at the Phi Gamma Delta — or “FIJI” — house on Locust Walk. Penn ultimately came to an undisclosed settlement with the student’s family after being accused of violating building safety standards.
But Penn did more than settle: it helped create two funds to maintain Greek houses on campus in the hopes of ensuring that an incident like this wouldn’t happen again.
But at the beginning of last year, just one block away from the site of Tobin’s death, John Carroll University student Matthew Crozier fell over a railing at the Phi Kappa Sigma house — also known as “Skulls” — and subsequently died from injuries he sustained.
A 2004 study that Penn commissioned revealed that the railing in question needed repair — a problem that was apparently not rectified. This Monday, the Croziers, who filed suit in May 2011, announced that they had come to a $3 million settlement with Skulls, as well as a separate settlement with Penn.
Alcohol played a major role in Crozier’s death, which warrants a discussion on the drinking culture in the aftermath of this tragedy. However, we cannot overlook the fact that Penn — and Skulls — knew that the railing was dangerous.
It was Skulls’ legal responsibility to maintain the house, since it was owned by a group of its alumni. But regardless of legal liability, Penn should have exercised its authority by addressing the building violations in a more proactive manner. If the University can evict and fine a chapter, it can compel fraternities to comply with safety regulations.
While policies like medical amnesty illustrate that the University is striving to protect students, Penn should also pay more attention to seemingly small maintenance issues in order to protect its students.
Penn has historically waited for such tragedies to occur to take action. But even then, it has failed to address underlying issues. It shouldn’t take a student death to spur University-wide conversation about what needs to change.
Penn should evaluate Greek houses more often. Anyone who has ever been in a fraternity knows how rapidly everything in it can deteriorate. Six years — the approximate time between the study and Crozier’s death — can be a lifetime for a fraternity house.
Penn is not solely responsible for Crozier’s death. But it is undeniable that the University could have addressed the circumstances that precipitated his death. We hope we won’t hear a similar account a decade from now. And we hope that Penn will take substantial — not ceremonial — steps to guarantee we don’t.
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