February 6, 2003

Greeks Attend Sexual Health Presentations

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Sexual Health Awareness for Greeks (SHAG), a new program initiated this year, will educate approximately 1000 new members in Cornell’s Greek system over the course of this semester.

Presenters discuss sexually transmitted infections (STIs), methods of birth control, sexual assault and the ability to make comfortable, informed decisions.

The program “help[s] people realize that they have the potential to do a lot of decision making themselves,” said Paul El-Meouchy ’04, Interfraternity Council (IFC) president.

“Most of us haven’t had sexual health education since freshmen year in high school and there’s a lot of new information now. It’s a really good thing that we’re getting a hold of people at the age that we’re at now when it’s probably most important,” said Elle Nichols ’05, a SHAG presenter.

Last year after interning at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, El-Meouchy realized the importance of a sexual health program within the Greek system.

“There are incidents at Cornell where people get sexually assaulted. It can happen anywhere at anytime … [and] I want the Greek system to be in the forefront of resolving this problem.”

El-Meouchy added that the social events held between fraternities and sororities “can increase [the] risk to a certain point, [but we can] mitigate the risk by discussing these issues.”

A pilot program with six participating fraternities was held last spring. This year SHAG will be extended to all houses under the IFC and the Panhellenic Association. Attendance at the presentation is expected of all new members.

“It’s a good intro for the pledges [to show them] the Greek system isn’t all about partying; we care about … our sisters and brothers,” Nichols said.

The 20 SHAG presenters are all volunteers from the Greek system. Each went through four training sessions in the fall taught by health professionals from Gannett and other students.

Presenters also address members of the same gender to avoid any discomfort.

“I want people to feel very comfortable speaking about their thoughts,” El-Meouchy said.

The content discussed in fraternities and sororities will be similar, but the sororities will focus “a little more about being safe … traveling in groups, watching out for sisters,” El-Meouchy said.

“By the time we graduate, one in four women will have been sexually assaulted. There are 40 pledges in my house and it scares me a lot to think 10 of them will experience it,” Nichols said.

To help facilitate discussion, presenters ask new members to put themselves in hypothetical situations and imagine how they would react.

“How can you not end up in a situation where you’ll be uncomfortable the next day?” El-Meouchy asked.

The program does not condone or discourage any actions, but “focuses on people to make their choices for themselves.” Presenters are also open to questions.

There has been both student and administrative interest in the program.

“Messages are generally very effective when they come from your peers … Paul felt that it should be Greeks talking to Greeks; it may have more of an impact than [talking to] an outsider,” said Nina Cummings, health educator at Gannett.

“I know we’ve all heard these things before but to bring them back into mind as we’re entering the fraternity is a good idea. It’s important to know that your actions have an effect on the rest of your brothers and the entire chapter,” said Mark Schwager ’06.

Archived article by Diana Lo