On Tuesday, President David Skorton issued Cornell’s 39 fraternities an ultimatum: eliminate pledging or be eliminated.
But at a two-hour closed-door meeting of Greek leaders on Wednesday night, chapter presidents said that they were at a loss to understand the implications of Skorton’s declaration. They expressed a willingness to conform to new expectations, yet said they do not know how to eradicate practices — such as hazing — that are already prohibited.
In his New York Times editorial Wednesday, Skorton called for the end of pledging, defining the practice as “the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership.” Yet Mohit Gulrajani ’12, IFC vice president for University and community relations, said that such practices are “not allowed at all” under current guidelines.
“I don’t know what [Skorton] wants,” Gulrajani said, adding that he did recognize that these activities do occur and are a matter of serious concern.
Central to the confusion, leaders said, is a dissonance of terms.
As used by Greek leaders, according to IFC President Dan Freshman ’12, “pledging” is a colloquial term for describing the eight-week period of member initiation following rush week. The term, therefore, is typically understood by fraternities and their members as both condoned and condemned behavior that encompasses everything from learning a fraternity’s history to forced drinking.
“Hazing,” by contrast, is understood only as that which is prohibited, Freshman said, adding that the practice has already been illegal in New York State for several decades. Freshman and others said they do not believe Skorton aims to end the currently sanctioned practices, and that he means to eliminate hazing, not pledging.
By conflating the two, Skorton has left the leaders “pulling at the air for details,” according to one fraternity president “[Skorton] admitted that he’s not an expert on Greek life,” Freshman said.
“I’ve spent three hours today, and six hours yesterday, trying to determine how to implement Skorton’s methods and I still don’t understand,” said another IFC representative who requested anonymity.
Greek leaders at the meeting said that after the death of George Desdunes ’13 in a hazing ritual at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in February, they recognize that their system must change.