Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on November 9th, 2019.

November 14, 2019

There Was ‘Significant Misbehavior’ at Frat Party Where Freshman Was Last Seen, Says Pollack

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Cornell has suspended the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, which hosted the party that Antonio Tsialas ’23 attended before he was found dead in an Ithaca gorge last month.

President Martha Pollack told The Sun that the fraternity had apparently hosted an unregistered, “dirty rush” party on Oct. 24, meaning the event was held to recruit first-year students outside of the policies within which fraternities are allowed to do so.

President Martha Pollack

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

President Martha Pollack

Pollack said there was no indication of what led to Tsialas’ death, but that independent of his death, there was “significant misbehavior” at the party, including alcohol served with first-years present. Cornell suspended the fraternity on Friday, and it will remain suspended until a formal ruling is made on whether it violated Greek life policies, spokesman John Carberry said. The president of Cornell’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Cornell’s Greek life policies, alcohol and drugs are forbidden from informal recruitment events between Fall and Winter breaks. The policies also prohibit fraternities from recruiting first-semester students in the fall.

Tsialas, who was 18, had eaten dinner with his mother before attending the party, which was held at the fraternity house at 120 Mary Ann Wood Drive. The next day, his mother, who was in town for First-Year Family Weekend, reported him missing when he did not meet her as planned. His body was found in Fall Creek Gorge the next day, Oct. 26.

Since then, Cornell Police have conducted more than 60 interviews and followed more than 100 leads, Pollack said, emphasizing that the investigation is still continuing and that it is not yet clear what caused Tsialas’ death. Police and University officials have said they do not believe the death was the result of foul play, and that CUPD will turn over evidence to the New York State Police for analysis. In the course of the investigation into Tsialas’ death, Cornell Police have sought subpoenas and warrants to seize evidence, the Ithaca Times reported.

In the three weeks since Tsialas was last seen alive, calls for improved safety at fraternity parties have erupted, and two of the campus boards governing Greek life —  the Panhellenic Council and the Interfraternity Council — have responded by suspending some events and calling for further measures to enhance student safety.

On Wednesday, Tsialas’ parents, Flavia Tomasello and John Tsialas, said they were offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with a new, verifiable tip and set up a phone line that takes calls and texts.

“What started as a beautiful weekend with our son Antonio Tsialas turned into our worst nightmare,” Tomasello said. “We are very troubled by the lack of information about what took place at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party he attended the night he died.”

Cornell’s fraternities on Friday overwhelmingly voted in favor of canceling nearly all of their regulated social events until January, save for three events that will be more heavily regulated. All but two of the 31 voting fraternities — Alpha Delta Phi and Phi Kappa Psi — voted for the ban. The president of Alpha Delta Phi said fraternities and Cornell should focus on stopping unregistered events instead. The fraternities had also voted to suspend all events on the weekend after Tsialas was found.

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi

Both Pollack and Ryan Lombardi, the vice president for student and campus life, praised the Greek Life groups for their actions and said there would be “severe” University consequences if fraternities or sororities violated their commitments.

But some members of Greek Life have signaled opposition to the measures. Maya Cutforth ’20, the president of the Panhellenic Council, last month proposed a suspension of all mixers — social events between fraternities and sororities — but it lacked unanimous support from the 13 active, on-campus sororities and failed to pass. The group did pass a measure creating a committee that would seek to improve the safety of Greek Life events.

Pollack and Lombardi said they were looking into further reforms, including changes to the spring rush process.

“Everything is on the table,” Pollack said.

The hotline created by Tsialas’ parents can be used by calling or texting 607-280-5102. University officials also encouraged anyone with information to contact Cornell Police at 607-255-1111, [email protected] or by using the Silent Witness Program, an online form that allows respondents to report information anonymously.