On March 6th, 2010 a young man named Matthew Tembo was found dead at the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity House on the Carnegie Mellon Campus. His autopsy results concluded that he died of acute alcohol poisoning after a night of binge drinking celebrating the birthday of a friend. Matt was not a member of the fraternity, he was a guest. Matt was not even a current student at Carnegie Mellon (although he had attended there previously). Matt was from Divonnes Les Baines, France and was a current student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. Do a simple web search for Matthew Tembo and you will find this headline over and over and over: Man, 20, Found Dead at Carnegie Mellon Frat House (yes, I know, he was really 22...but the illustrated point here is what the headlines read).
Here we go again. Another death at another fraternity house. Another headline telling the world that what we do as members of the fraternity/sorority community is drink. Drink a lot, in fact. We love our alcohol so much that we watch our friends kill themselves - and many times we've even provided the smoking gun.
This isn't a time where hours of community service matter. Our collective number of affiliated politicians, successful businesspeople, and movie stars is irrelevant. The academic success of many of our chapters - nobody cares. And the leadership...well, we show great leadership in extreme alcohol abuse. That is the message that has been successfully sent, not just with this incident, but with so many others that have come before it. And I'm not just talking about when there is a death, we do the same thing with every headline, every story, and every incident that shows destruction to property, physical assault, sexual assault, hazing, or any other number of harms.
I'm tired of hearing the retort "but we do so much good! It isn't fair! They only cover the bad stuff! The press is out to get us!" The last I checked, what they do is their job. It's their job to find those things that are out of sync and report them to the public. And anytime an incident as mentioned above occurs, it is clearly out of sync with our stated values as organizations.
So it is time to stop the killing. It's time to stop the stupidity. It's time to stop blaming the other members and the other chapters and intervene when you see things going badly. It's time our advisors and our alumni start actually expecting excellence out of us and creating real and meaningful consequences for us when we don't perform (yes, that might mean shutting chapters down). It's time our members start holding each other accountable both within individual chapters and across the fraternal community. It's time to stop whining about what people think about us and realize that our community collectively has created that reality. And yes, it is fair that those atrocities are what people remember. It is fair that people get pissed off and question our purpose. It is fair because it's real and let us never forget that a person's life is far more important than any community service project or any amount of money raised and nothing can make up for it when we (the collective "we") harm or take a life.