Concerns over the possible reduction of fraternities’ new member pledge periods have renewed efforts to combat hazing by the leaders of the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC).
In a letter that was mailed to the parents of new Greek members over spring break, Suzy Nelson, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, advocated that the pledge period should be finished by April 15, roughly eight weeks into the semester.
The April 15 date was set by last year’s IFC President’s Council in an effort to check fraternities whose pledge periods, not limited by national standards, extended ten to 12 weeks into the semester, sometimes lasting until close to Slope Day.
The arrangement was in the academic interests of the students, according to Nelson, who cited studies indicating “a [strong] correlation between the length of the new member period and academic achievement.”
It was also seen as an effort to reduce hazing, which Nelson admitted could get out of hand if the pledge period is too long.
“Much of the hazing that [is reported] during pledge periods is antithetical to academic life,” she added.
Some fraternities, however, claimed that they either missed or never received the message, and brothers returned from break incensed about a letter that many viewed as a threat to each chapter’s sovereignty and overall uniqueness.
Describing the letter as “inflammatory,” James Gutow ’01, pledge educator for Sigma Chi, said, “Our biggest concern is that shortening the length of the pledge period is going to detract from the strength of our organization.”
Sigma Chi feels that its traditional 12-week pledge period is important “to help freshmen understand what the house means and to get to know the class and the members,” according to Sven Jensen ’01, president of Sigma Chi. The chapter had protested and succeeded in preserving the full length of their pledge period.
The incoming IFC President’s Council responded to Nelson’s letter by saying that they did not want to comply with the eight week limits tentatively set by last year’s leaders.
Consequently, the length of the pledge period for upcoming years has yet to be pinpointed, as confirmed by an IFC Advisory Council meeting last Sunday, according to Jensen.
Some fraternity members were skeptical that the pledge period could significantly impact a student’s academic performance.
“I see it as a time commitment like a club or a sport or any other activity,” Gutow said.
Jensen pointed to statistics over the past seven years, which revealed that most new member grade point averages decrease less than 0.l during the pledge semester — “a minuscule amount,” he added.
“By reducing the length of the pledge period, fraternities will wind up trying to squeeze more activities into a shorter period of time, and this will have a greater impact on academics,” Jensen said.
The average pledge period for most fraternities on campus is about eight weeks — two weeks more than the average sorority pledge time.
The administration has said that it will continue to monitor and ensure that the campus code of conduct is maintained during the pledge season.
“If academics are the number one activity at Cornell, then I’d like to see students have some time to regain their focus before exams,” said Susan H. Murphy ’74, vice president for student and academic services.
Nelson emphasized that pledging should be viewed more as an orientation. “You’re a Greek member for life, and there is plenty of time to strengthen brotherly and sisterly bonds,” she said.
Brian Strahine ’01, IFC president, stressed that shortening the pledge period would only partially address the larger issue of hazing.
“By decreasing the pledge period, you’re not solving the problem. You’re merely reducing the amount of time to be hazed,” Strahine said.
To combat the issue, Strahine is working with the 42 chapters represented by the Inter-Fraternity President’s Council.
“I see hazing as a dehumanizing, humiliating and degrading right of passage that affects a student mentally, emotionally, physically and psychologically,” Strahine said.
He added that the council’s goal is to provide social alternatives, and to encourage administrators and alumni to take an active role.
With a mission to develop a clear definition of “hazing” and draft policy changes, Murphy jump-started an “anti-hazing task force” this semester.
“Hazing needs to be called out and stopped,” Murphy said. “It is against the law and injurious to community members. It should not be viewed as necessary to forming brotherly or sisterly cohesion.”
Hazing is a persistent problem at Cornell, but the incidents are relatively few compared to those at most schools with Greek systems, according to Nelson.
Last year’s Judicial Summary listed the reported hazing cases as 14, the same as the previous year, and a 50 percent increase from two years ago.
Linda Falkson, associate judicial administrator, suggested that “educational initiatives and changing the overall culture” was the best way to address hazing.
She noted that the process may be slow-moving, however, as many Greek members were reluctant to break with tradition.
“We worry that if Cornell continues to regulate us, then they’ve taken away our strengths and then we can’t compete,” Jensen said. “If all fraternities are treated together and over-regulated, then all frats could become really similar.”
Archived article by Jennifer Roberts