April 17, 2013

GUEST ROOM: Student Trustee Candidates: Come Out Against Hazing

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So I was originally planning to stay out of the debate on the Student Trustee election this semester for two reasons: One, I am a graduating senior and the trustee we elect will not represent me directly. Two, I tend to view campus politics skeptically, as popularity contests and forums for egomania, replete with name-calling and hollow rhetoric (every candidate’s site I’ve seen contains the same overwrought tropes of “transparency,” “YOUR voice,” “accountability” etc.). The less actual responsibility a position holds, the larger the incentive to diminish its meritocratic and substantive basis, and, to be sure, most campus representatives have very little real responsibility. This isn’t to belittle these campus “leaders” in particular; since not many of us claim real impactful responsibilities while at Cornell — we’re considered full-time students for a reason.​​

​But I was caught in a discussion about the candidates a couple of days ago in which someone brought up a smear-campaign site called “Git Out Ross,” focused on Ross Gitlin ’15, the candidate whom many of my friends are supporting. I took a look at the site and found it, first and foremost, unnecessarily nasty in tone, coyly hiding behind its own anonymity. That is not the way to conduct civil debate, and it shouldn’t be a model for future elections.

Yet, the site is not entirely irrelevant. It points to Gitlin’s former role as President of Tau Epsilon Phi, a fraternity that the administration kicked off earlier this year after hazing violations that included sexual humiliation and excessive drinking. The site goes on to include speculative accusations that Ross Gitlin hid behind his family connections (former Editor-in-Chief of The Cornell Daily Sun Ben Gitlin ’14 and Student Assembly President Adam Gitlin ’13) to avoid further scrutiny. I won’t begin to address whether or not these are true, as I have no idea.

​As far as claims of nepotism are concerned, I too must admit that I  am a bit uncomfortable with the dynastic impression three Gitlins in three of Cornell’s most prominent student roles leaves. But this is by no means a reason to discredit someone’s candidacy — everyone deserves to be considered as an individual. The fact that he was the president of an organization and thus effectively presided over hazing that left pledges in the hospital, though, I believe should disqualify him for the position. Though Ross publicly stated at Tuesday’s debate that he wasn’t present at the event, I believe this fact only serves to further indict him — as the President of the fraternity he is responsible for overseeing all of its official functions. His absence either proves willful negligence or politically disingenuous complicity.

When I first came to Cornell, I didn’t have much of an opinion about hazing because, well, I didn’t really know much about it. Like most, I tend to take a fairly laissez-faire approach to social life — as far as I’m concerned consenting adults should be allowed, in most cases, to have their fun without bureaucratic imposition. I’ve also never been one to demand moral purity from those running for office — I tend not to care what President Clinton did behind closed doors or what Congressman Anthony Weiner tweeted so long as they performed their jobs to the best of their abilities.

But after the tragedy that befell our campus two years ago with the hazing death of George Desdunes, I began to see that sometimes, letting drunken teenagers perpetuate coercive and dangerous traditions at their own whims is a really awful idea. Seeing the way the Cornell Greek system has defended its uncouth practices since then has only strengthened my belief that hazing needs to be torn out by the roots. In order to end the grandfather clause that sustains hazing on the basis of “I was hazed so you should be too,” we need a true climactic cultural split. Hazing has been around for ages in numerous manifestations, and ridding our campus of it means actively challenging this status quo, which we can begin through the symbolic election of a Student Trustee who is willing to take a stance on the issue.

Now, I know better than to toss the baby out with the bathwater and entirely dismiss Ross Gitlin or any Cornellians who have overseen, administered or participated in hazing. Some of my best friends on campus and, indeed, some of the people here I respect most fall into these categories. I would hope that these actions don’t preclude them from future positions they may very much deserve.

But the Student Trustee isn’t just a single vote amongst the 60 plus people who exercise “supreme control” over Cornell, voting on the University’s budget and even whether or not to keep President Skorton in his job. They are also the student body’s representative to the Board of Trustees, and transitively, the administration. The Board of Trustees may not directly control the Greek system, but they provide checks and balances to the administration that must then prosecute offenders.

The student representative on the Board should embody what’s best for the student body. For me, this means advocating and actually exemplifying the principal that we are not a community that tolerates hazing. This is not only necessary for Cornell moving forward, but also to continue our campus’ vibrant Greek system.

If one of the candidates is willing to come out strongly against hazing, he or she will receive my vote. If this candidate is Ross Gitlin, or any other, then I am more than happy to cast my ballot in his or her name.

Adam Lerner is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Feedback may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Adam Lerner