August 30, 2010

The ‘Student Safety’ Defense

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In an interview with The Sun, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 stated that the changes being imposed on the Interfraternity Council were a “safety issue, not a moral issue.” There is no question that the administration cares deeply for the safety of its students. But in the case of these new regulations, there is significant cause to doubt Hubbell’s assertion that these changes were made solely to keep students safe.Curbing the campus-wide culture of binge drinking would indeed increase the safety of the students. But these changes only address underage drinking — and not necessarily even binge drinking — in fraternity chapter houses. Hubbell emphasized that the regulations to the Greek system were coupled with other campus-wide initiatives to cut down on drinking across the board, but we have seen little to back up that statement. If those initiatives are, indeed, coming down the pipeline, we hope they come sooner rather than later. In two years, there will be a new crop of freshmen on campus looking to spread their wings and imbibe their first sips of alcohol. It does not appear that anyone has spent serious time or energy considering where those sips will be taken, or how that environment will be safer than current open fraternity parties. That leaves unregistered events, unrecognized fraternities, dorm rooms, Collegetown parties and the great outdoors as the venues available for drinking freshmen — none of which are as well regulated as a registered fraternity event.Another point that seems to contradict the administration’s focus on safety is the two-year timeline, which is apparently set in stone. If open fraternity parties represented such a serious, pressing safety concern, these changes would be implemented immediately. But these changes will be implemented on a two-year timeline — suggesting that student safety is either not in immediate jeopardy, or the administration has other considerations in mind. Perhaps they are attempting to dilute some of the backlash they are currently feeling.What makes the two-year timeline all the more troubling is its inflexibility to adapt to unforeseen consequences of these changes. For example, if there is a rise in medical transports from the dorms or Collegetown parties in the latter part of fall 2011, when first-year students are no longer allowed at fraternity parties serving alcohol, we sincerely hope the University administration would re-evaluate its position, rather than plowing full steam ahead toward its two-year deadline.At the leadership retreat where these sweeping changes were first introduced, the theme of a “culture change” was thinly veiled behind the guise of student safety. Indeed, these changes have been framed as a opportunity to “reimagine” the Greek system. However these reimaginations not only seek safety through abstinence, but seek to make Greek life something more closely aligned with a set of values proscribed by the administration.To claim that these changes are being made without moral considerations is a deliberate attempt to distort the impetus for the changes. Constantly citing “student safety” not only makes the administration less credible, but devalues the truly admirable things they have done in providing students with a safe campus environment. If Day Hall is instituting these changes for legal and moral reasons (as many of their actions and explanations suggest), then they should say so, and not hide behind the unassailable catchall that is “student safety.”Ultimately, Cornell will have a dramatically different Greek system and social life two years from now than it does today. And if the administration’s culture-change rhetoric can be executed, there may well be a different “culture” installed into the chapter houses around campus, as well. But there is little proof that Cornell will be a safer place.