Every year freshmen come through Cornell’s open doors to become part of the University-wide student body. While academic pursuit is an essential part of the Cornell experience, social life is a favorable ingredient making it a pleasant one. A huge part of the social scene at Cornell is the Greek system, which claims anywhere from a fifth to a third of the student body as its members.
Cornell has one of the nation’s oldest Greek systems, currently consisting of 37 fraternities governed by the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), 13 sororities governed by the PanHellenic Council (PanHel) and 14 multicultural Greek organizations governed by the Multicultural Greek Letter Council (MGLC).
The Greek System provides many things to the students who choose to join its ranks, as well as for those who only wish to attend the fraternity and sorority parties.
As an alternative to Collegetown’s 21 and over bars with scrupulous bouncers checking IDs, Greek houses allow students under 21 years old to come in and party whether they are allowed to drink or not.
“It provides a certain level of entertainment, without which you could live … but it wouldn’t be as fun,” said Margarita Lukin ’04.
Besides the partying aspect of the Greek system, there is the brotherhood and sisterhood aspect to the institution. While some students may like Cornell’s size, many find it overwhelming. Greek life “allows students the chance to become part of a meaningful organization and makes Cornell less overwhelming,” said Courtney Glasgow ’04, member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
Joining a fraternity or sorority house may help some students find housing, as most new brothers and sisters live in the fraternity/sorority houses their sophomore year live in their houses.
“I think the Greek system is a great way to make a network of close friends and acquaintances,” said Hope Barter ’04, member of Kappa Delta sorority.
Philanthropy is another aspect of the Greek system. Different houses have annual events such as “Jazz Night” charity function, put on every year by Sigma Pi Fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta’s “Tip-a-Canoe” annual event. These fundraisers aim to benefit Ithaca’s community as well as national organizations.
Keeping in mind all the positive aspects of the Greek system, one must not forget that in order to become a member of a Greek organization, students must go through Formal Membership Recruitment (informally known Rush), a process through which one gets accepted into a fraternity or a sorority.
This process if very different for the three branches of Cornell’s Greek System. For national fraternities and sororities, rush starts in January, a week before classes for the spring semester kick in.
Fraternity recruitment is thought of as more relaxed, as the young men only visit the houses they wish to see out of the 37 fraternities on campus. For sororities, the process is the process is long and cold, as hundreds of girls trudge through hills and snow. Potential members go through a five-day recruitment process, visiting each of the 13 sorority houses on campus in groups at specific times. Everyday, both the houses and the “rushees” (as they are called) narrow down their choices, in hopes of achieving the best match.
PanHel and IFC houses also hold an informal rush process during the fall, but not all houses participate and freshmen are not allowed to rush in the fall.
The 14 other, multicultural fraternities and sororities on campus, Hispanic, Asian and African-American houses hold recruitment at different times during the year and select their members on more individual basis.
After the bids are in the new members are have to go through a six-week period of pledging before being initiated and becoming brothers and sister of their organization.
A major issue with the Greek system at Cornell is hazing. Last year alone, three fraternity chapters lost their charter due to hazing issues.
“On a lighter note, Greek life is a welcome break from Cornell’s Big Red Stress,” Barter said.
However, there are also many student critics of the system. “I just think that the Greek system needs to evolve, needs to be more diverse, more selective, eager to earn respect not only within its own quarters but to attempt to find acceptable ways to convert those who would normally shun the Greek community,” said Ilya Shulman ’04.
“The Greek system is one of the biggest polarizing influences for freshmen. There’s a significant division, socially, between those who attend fraternity parties and those who couldn’t care less,” said Brad Grossman ’04.
Although the Greek system at Cornell is not partial to films like the “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Animal House”, an occasional night at a fraternity party may seem like a scene from a teen movie, with keg-stands and DJs intact.
Even though typical Greek System stereotypes are not partial to Cornell, every house on campus has its reputation. Not all fraternities and sororities are the same, some focus more on partying, on sports or academics, and others are more exclusive.
Archived article by Veronika Belenkaya