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FSU suspends all fraternities, sororities following death of a pledge

By Colleen Wright
The main entrance to Florida State University, where all Greek life was indefiniely suspended Monday after the death of a fraternity pledge. [Times files]

Florida State University president John Thrasher has indefinitely suspended all fraternities and sororities following the death of a fraternity pledge and another student’s unrelated drug arrest over the weekend.

The pause was necessary to "review and reflect on the loss of a young life," the university said in a statement Monday.

"For this suspension to end, there will need to be a new normal for Greek life at the university," Thrasher said at a news conference. "There must be a new culture, and our students must be full participants in creating it."

Fraternity and sorority chapters will not be able to hold new member events, council or chapter meetings, chapter-organized tailgates, chapter events such as socials, philanthropy and intramural events, retreats, organized participation in Market Wednesday and organized participation in next week’s homecoming festivities, the university said.

Students in those chapters will be allowed to remain as residents in their fraternity or sorority houses and will have meal service. They can attend leadership classes, judicial and conduct hearings, and risk management education workshops offered by the university.

Those who do not comply with the interim suspension could be disciplined immediately, the university said. Thrasher said it is up to students to determine when the temporary ban will be lifted.

"They must work with us and demonstrate they fully understand the serious obligation they have to exercise responsible conduct," he said.

Nearly 7,600 students, comprising about 22 percent of the undergraduate enrollment, are affected. Florida State is home to 54 social chapters — 28 fraternities and 26 sororities.

The suspension followed the death of Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old pledge at Pi Kappa Phi, who was found unresponsive at 10:23 a.m. Friday after attending a party Thursday night. He was at a house along a tree-shaded lane, Buena Visa Drive, about a mile northwest of campus. It was the start of FSU’s annual Parents’ Weekend.

Coffey was from Pompano Beach.

Tallahassee Police collected beer bottles from the porch as evidence, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Investigators have interviewed more than 50 people, Police Chief Michael DeLeo said in a video posted online.

"Although there are indicators that alcohol may have been a factor in this case," he said, "we are waiting for the results of an autopsy. So no cause of death has been determined."

FSU officials also linked the Greek suspension to an arrest Monday in the unrelated case of 20-year-old Garrett John Marcy, who was charged with the sale and trafficking of cocaine. Marcy is a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Thrasher took the added step of banning alcohol at all registered student organization events during the indefinite suspension. FSU has more than 700 organizations outside the Greek community, the school said.

"Like most universities, we worry about alcohol and drug abuse and other dangerous behaviors, and we are doing all we can to educate our students," Thrasher said. "But all of our student organizations — Greek organizations and the other recognized student organizations on campus — must step up. They will have to participate in the solution."

The university said its Division of Student Affairs will create and implement new measures in collaboration with students and other stakeholder groups.

Florida State is at least the third university this year to suspend Greek life because of alcohol-related tragedies. After the February hazing death of 19-year old Timothy Piazza, Penn State suspended fraternities and sororities from holding social activities during the spring semester. And F. King Alexander, the president of Louisiana State University, suspended all Greek activities on Sept. 14 after an 18-year-old freshman pledge died in what has been investigated as a hazing incident at the Phi Delta Theta chapter.

LSU later allowed some Greek activities to resume. But in a letter that struck some of the same notes as Thrasher did on Monday, the university made clear in a letter that things would have to change.

"It is important to understand that there will be no return to ‘normal,’" the LSU letter said. "There will be a movement to a new understanding of how the Greek system will operate. We aren’t just thinking about changing rules; we are thinking about changing cultures."

The FSU chapter of Pi Kappa Phi has been suspended by the fraternity’s national office, which released a statement Monday saying its members have been told to cooperate fully with officers investigating Coffey’s death.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the student’s family and friends," said Pi Kappa Phi chief executive officer Mark E. Timmes. "We appreciate the partnership and support from the Division of Student Affairs during this difficult time."

Last year, the fraternity suspended its chapter at the University of South Florida in Tampa after a 16-year-old girl reported she was raped during a party at the Pi Kappa Phi house in Greek Village. A 19-year-old USF sophomore was arrested on a charge of sexual battery on a child over 12.

Information from Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.