The Penn State Transparency Tracker is an ongoing effort by Spotlight PA to document and share the ways in which the university is, and is not, being transparent with the community. Due to its special “state-related” designation, Penn State is not subject to open records laws beyond the public disclosure of basic financial information.
STATE COLLEGE — When a former Penn State student claimed responsibility for vandalizing the Lion Shrine last year, she also alleged inappropriate conduct including hazing by the Lion Ambassadors, a student group responsible for giving campus tours to prospective students.
The university confirmed to Onward State and the Huntingdon Daily Herald that Penn State had investigated the Lion Ambassadors for several months. As a result, “several organizational reforms” were put in place, and three students were removed from the program.
The Lion Ambassadors, however, do not show up on the university’s mandated hazing report, which details hazing violations that were reported between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 20, 2022.
The Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law — a statewide statute enacted after the death of a Penn State student who died at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in 2017 — requires institutions of higher education to report the following violations: forcing someone to consume liquids or drugs, physical or mental harassment, and subjecting someone to sexual misconduct for the purposes of initiation or continued membership in a group.
Interested in learning about the allegations of hazing and whether they were investigated, Spotlight PA asked Penn State the following questions:
Did the conduct of the Lion Ambassadors not meet the reporting threshold to be included on the university’s hazing report?
What were the findings of the university’s investigation that led it to not publicly note the investigation and action taken against the Lion Ambassadors?
Penn State responded in an email:
“Accusations regarding inappropriate conduct within Lion Ambassadors were investigated from late April to mid-August 2021, during which time all internal events and social events within the program were suspended,” Wyatt DuBois, director of university public relations, wrote in an email. “The Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response were involved, per our practices, and responded directly to those affected in this matter to discuss allegations and provide support resources. As a result, several organizational reforms were put into place and the Alumni Association arranged follow-up sessions to track progress in October 2021, December 2021 and April 2022. Additionally, the Alumni Association removed some students from the program and they were subject to conduct processes and discipline, which are confidential.
“The university’s practice is to report on student organizations that are subject to the Code of Conduct. Lion Ambassadors is an organization affiliated with the Penn State Alumni Association and is not a recognized university student organization, so the organization is not subject to formal student organization conduct procedures. However, information from the Student Conduct investigation was shared with the Alumni Association and, as mentioned above, changes were implemented and behaviors addressed. Again, investigations involving individual students are considered confidential.”
Seeking clarity, Spotlight PA followed up with these questions:
Penn State University does not recognize the Lion Ambassadors, the group who provides campus tours to prospective and admitted students, as an official student group?
Does the university maintain a list of officially recognized student organizations?
Penn State responded in an email:
“I should have said that Lion Ambassadors is not a typical ‘recognized’ student organization,” DuBois responded in an email. “Of course the university recognizes Lion Ambassadors, however, given the role of the organization, and a couple of other groups that fulfill university functions, the group is a bit different from other recognized student organizations as are its conduct and disciplinary processes. The university does, however, have the means to maintain appropriate conduct within Lion Ambassadors outside of the student organization conduct process, and these steps were taken in 2021 when all Lion Ambassador social events were canceled while allegations against the organization and some of its members were investigated. Additionally, like all students at Penn State, individual members of Lion Ambassadors are subject to the student code of conduct and disciplinary processes. The University can discipline the organization and its members by removing individual members, requiring education or retraining, revising policies, restricting activities and benefits, etc. This also was the case in 2021 when, as I noted, the Alumni Association removed some students from the program and they were subject to conduct processes and discipline.
“Further, I should note that the allegations of hazing were not substantiated through the investigation, so they wouldn’t be included in the anti-hazing report, as the report only lists substantiated allegations of hazing.
“A list of student organizations can be found at https://orgcentral.psu.edu/. This website, however, does not differentiate between typical recognized student organizations and affiliate organizations.”
Based on that information, here’s what you need to know:
Penn State determined misconduct occurred in the Lion Ambassadors, but said its review did not substantiate the claims of hazing. It is unclear what kind of inappropriate behavior occurred.
Across the university and various student groups, Penn State’s hazing report detailed 24 hazing violations — 21 at University Park, two at the Altoona campus, and one at the Harrisburg campus. All but three of the violations involved fraternities and sororities.
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