January 27, 2010

Through Decision, IFC Admits Problems with Going Greek

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Recently, the Interfraternity Council introduced a new rule establishing a 2.25 minimum grade point average for new fraternity recruits. This decision is contradictory to much of what the IFC strives to promote about fraternities and is, frankly, stupid and exclusionary. Frats and their primary governing body, the IFC, tell independents such as myself that they are a positive force in the community, that they provide an atmosphere where young minds can blossom and expand, can grow character and poise whilst encouraging academic inquiry. And yet, this same organization clearly believes that they are not a positive influence for those students with a GPA below a 2.25. If they truly are, as they claim, a positive atmosphere for learning and developing as a student and a person, aren’t those with lower grades exactly whom they should be targeting, in order to assist these students and help them to improve their grades?

This rule indicates that the IFC does not, in fact, believe that fraternities help their brothers to become better students, as it excludes those most in need of academic help. Thus, there are only a few possible conclusions to draw from this new rule. Either the fraternities fail to provide a positive learning environment and use this rule solely as a PR ploy to inflate average fraternity GPAs, or fraternities are indeed a positive force in the community and are restricting their membership for another reason.

I would like to believe neither, as many of my friends in the Greek system are some of the most positive and influential Cornellians I know, from philanthropic involvement to the equestrian ring and more. However, this does not mean that the Greek system is altogether altruistic. Clearly this GPA restriction exists for a reason. Otherwise, why block struggling students from participating in this supposed positive experience?

The most obvious reason for such a rule, as I see it, is pure and simple classism. The IFC and its fraternities have been accused for generations of being elitist, discriminatory institutions available only to wealthy, white members of the community. This GPA policy only continues this unfortunate trend by favoring those who have attended high quality, expensive prep schools or highly ranked (mostly wealthy) public schools, which often provide a more rigorous curriculum, allowing these students to be more adequately prepared for the rigorous Cornell experience.

Meanwhile, those with less access to such an expensive, quality secondary education are railroaded by this IFC policy. The first semester at Cornell is one where these students must become acclimated to a new schedule, new professors, a new method of learning — an altogether new environment. In addition to being thrown out of their comfort zone, they are cast into a classroom of intellectual know-it-alls where before sat their friends and neighbors.

Beyond this, freshmen are often placed in classes based on a major they chose entirely because it sounded good on an application, or represented an often-fleeting career goal. These students cannot be expected to flourish in classes that hardly interest them, or introduce subjects which are otherwise entirely foreign.

While many students do indeed flourish, many others flounder — others such as myself.

Freshman year, I found myself as an engineer after having chosen in high school to pursue the subject. Needless to say, given that I am now a graduating government major, engineering did not work out. And my first semester, freshman GPA reflected that. In fact, I was thrilled that I earned a C in introductory computer programming — I worked my ass off for that C, and earned only a 2.0 on the GPA scale for that particular class.

For students who have had difficulty adjusting to a new and challenging environment, it is appalling to me that they must not only suffer the indignity and difficulty of having to overcome a low GPA during their first semester at Cornell, but also having to come back to school only to be blackballed during rush week and excluded from a social environment in which over one-third of Cornellians proudly partake. As their friends, lucky enough to have scraped by with a 2.3, join new communities, finding new niches and, in many cases, assisting with their ongoing adjustment to the collegiate environment, these students are left to struggle on their own.

Rather, rush week should be an opportunity for those students to return to Cornell and explore fraternities, as well as other clubs and organizations, in an effort to find one which may provide the academic and social community that will help them to succeed in their future years at Cornell.

With its minimum GPA rule, the IFC contradicts its assertions that fraternities build character and provide nurturing academic environments. This rule, in essence, claims that fraternities are not useful, or even are detrimental, to a student’s academic career. Thus, those who are in the most need of assistance are denied the chance to flourish in these supposedly beneficial environments. Either the IFC needs to cut the shit about frats being good for students academically, or they need to rescind this rule, to avoid continuing to govern in hypocrisy.

Leigha Kemmett is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at lkemmett@cornellsun.com. Starboard Tact appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Leigha Kemmett