With over 60 Greek houses on Cornell's campus, administrators have proposed new regulations that will affect alcohol use and condemn hazing. Students, concerned about how Cornell's social life might change, have spoken out against the proposed changes to alcohol policy.
Fraternities and sororities at Cornell would be expected to engage in alcohol-free recruitment, new member education and initiation, according to the university proposal. Freshmen would be prohibited from attending fraternity and sorority parties where alcohol is served.
The university also plans to take a strong stand against hazing and make changes to the initiation timeline so that activities conclude by spring break.
These proposed changes are part of a revision to the university's "recognition policy" for fraternities and sororities, a policy which makes rules by which Greek houses must abide if they wish to be recognized by the university.
Some of these changes have generated controversy at Cornell this fall, particularly those relating to alcohol, students and administrators said. Through a number of channels, students have communicated a strong dislike for the proposal. Others, though, have praised it.
Toward the end of the spring semester, Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, and Kent Hubbell, dean of students, communicated the university's intentions to revise the recognition policy to the presidents of Cornell's three fraternity and sorority councils.
Senior Allen Miller, president of the Interfraternity Council, senior Nora Allen, president of the Panhellenic Council and senior Evelyn Ambriz, president of the Multicultural Greek Letter Council, were tasked with getting their respective councils to create plans for the implementation of the changes. Over the summer, the three council presidents worked with several people from each of their groups to draft implementation plans for recognition policy changes.
In the fall, the general student body was made aware of the proposals. "We've invited the membership of the fraternities and sororities on campus to respond," Hubbell said.
The university held an open forum on the policy in September, which hundreds of students attended, Apgar said.
This past weekend, the Cornell Board of Trustees met to discuss the proposed changes to the recognition policy. News has not yet been released about any decisions.
Minimizing alcohol's impact
The first and most controversial part of the proposed change in the recognition policy is a stricter position on alcohol. Apgar said "alcohol and other drugs should not be used, provided or present" during recruitment, education or initiation of new members of Cornell's fraternities and sororities.
Additionally, it has been proposed that freshmen be barred from attending parties where alcohol is served. Hubbell added that "social events that take place for first-year students need to be alcohol-free."
"We're very concerned about excessive alcohol use on campus," Hubbell said. He also said the university is trying to be more proactive in identifying excessive alcohol consumption, and in particular, students who may develop dependencies.
The reaction among Greek students was less than positive.
Miller said there were many concerns raised among students he works with.
"I think a lot of the campus has been up in arms about the issue," Ambriz said. "People are nervous that the social scene is going to change."
Allen said she thinks "a lot of chapters use alcohol in a really healthy way," noting that many
members are at least 21 years old.
Non-Greek students have also expressed some concerns, administrators said. The chief worry seemed to be that pushing freshmen away from alcoholic events with the fraternities and sororities would simply push problems elsewhere, such as off campus.
Cornell's student government is also currently reviewing the policy.
But not all student reaction has been negative. "There are some who have reached out to us as well to support what we're doing," Apgar said.
Administrators stressed that they are not trying to create an alcohol-free campus. "We have no intention of making them dry organizations," Apgar said.
Both Apgar and Hubbell cited legal compliance as a major motivation for the revision of the recognition policy. "I think that what we're trying to accomplish is something that helps the activities of our students align with state law," Apgar said.
The policy also speaks to altering the focus of initiation and education. "I think it makes a lot of sense to move towards a more values-based new member education process," Allen said.
To further change the focus of the education process, the proposed change to the recognition policy includes a revised timeline for the initiation of new members. Cornell's initiation process happens in the spring, though under the new policy, Hubbell explained, initiation and new member activities would be expected to conclude before spring break.
Miller expressed positive views about this point, saying new members should be able to focus on academics, as well as integrate with their fraternities.
Changing a culture of hazing
The second major point of the proposed change in the recognition policy is a strong zero-tolerance stand on hazing.
"We will have no tolerance for any form of hazing at any point of a student's experience in a fraternity or sorority," Apgar said.
This point seemed to stir little controversy.
"I don't think there should ever be hazing," Allen said. "I feel very strongly about that."
"I just don't believe that hazing has any purpose," Ambriz said. "Why would I harm anybody who was going to become my brother or sister? It just doesn't make any sense."
Miller said the Interfraternity Council has been working independently of the university to eliminate hazing, noting resolutions it has passed. "A lot of things that used to happen 10, 20 years ago thankfully don't occur anymore," he said. "We're against it."
Unfortunately, "there are occasions where hazing comes to our attention," Hubbell said. He noted that hazing is not unique to fraternities and sororities, and that it can also be found in sports teams and other organizations.
Addressing the existence of hazing requires looking at the motivations behind it. "I think it's deeply rooted in our culture," Hubbell said.
"I think a lot of times, it has to do with tradition," Miller said. He said that it might also be intended to make new members feel part of an organization.
"People get carried away," Allen said, saying that activities that constitute hazing may start off well-intentioned, in the minds of some, but later get out of hand.
Allen said one motivation behind hazing might be the mentality that what was done to older members must be done to successive new members. She also said it may be used to promote a shared experience that bonds new members. But she noted that hazing is not the best way to accomplish this.
Cornell has a website — hazing.cornell.edu — which describes itself as "a resource for students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and others interested in learning about hazing within student groups at Cornell University."
"Although hazing is not unique to Cornell, we believe that it is important to examine these practices explicitly in an attempt to overcome the secrecy that perpetuates them," the website states.
The site gives details of certain hazing incidents that have occurred at Cornell and says the elimination of hazing requires open discussion.
"I think that Cornell does a really great job at transparency with hazing," Allen said, noting the existence of the website. Others echoed her sentiments, all referencing the site.
"I think that if we want our culture to change, we need to educate our members," Ambriz said. "It's
not a magical thing that will just go away."