September 7, 2010

Greeks, Administrators Clash at Forum Over New Drinking Rules

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Wearing their houses’ letters, Greek students gathered Tuesday night on the Arts Quad and silently marched in protest into the auditorium of Uris Hall.Hundreds of fraternity men joined other students, alumni and faculty who overflowed the auditorium during Tuesday night’s open forum on upcoming reforms to the Greek system.Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, began by reiterating the new policy’s aims — excluding alcohol from recruitment, forbidding hazing and improving new member education. All changes, he said, align with the rules of chapters’ national organizations, as well as state laws. He emphasized that, while the changes are not negotiable, the process for implementing the changes within the University’s three-year deadline can be altered.“We don’t intend to tell you how to operate recruitment or new member initiation,” Apgar said. “It’s on you make this successful and by no means do we intend to revoke your self-governance.”According to Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, legal, social and University pressures prompted the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to revise the University Recognition Policy for Greek chapters on campus. The University decided to concentrate on the first-year experience and stress the need for alternative social events to those related to alcohol, both in and out of the Greek system, he said.“We’re not here to advocate for a dry campus or Greek system,” Hubbell said. “And it’s going to take more than one year to ameliorate Cornell’s chronic, difficult drinking problem.”Attendees questioned the administration’s commitment to Greek self-governance, the sustainability of fraternity life and previous analysis of the policy’s effectiveness and consequences.Several chapter presidents asked why the University had not sought the cooperation and advice of the IFC before mandating the change, as certain chapters require more transformation than others under the new rules.Apgar said the administration introduced the revisions first to the tri-council leaders to avoid miscommunication, but underscored the need for the Greek system to assist in implementing the amendments.“We need your help,” Apgar said.Students responded that many freshmen want to drink regardless of the status of the Greek system and, with no fraternity parties open to them, they will move to a more risky, unregulated Collegetown environment for alcohol. The students questioned whether the cash-strapped University had the means to support alternative events, and claimed that freshmen rushing fraternity houses will have to choose a house without being able to gauge the brotherhood’s attitude toward alcohol.“We’re here because we’re fighting for the kids who will come after us once we’re gone,” Rohan Siddhanti ‘12, president of Sigma Pi fraternity, said. “We like that you’re trying to make cultural changes, but you’re just cutting at the top of the stem because frats will take kids off-campus.”Susan Murphy ‘73, vice president for student and academic services, said that alcohol should not define the Greek system and that off-campus events are not inherently more dangerous that on-campus parties, at which point the crowd burst into laughter.“Don’t you have a responsibility to find out whether off-campus drinking will be safer than drinking in fraternities before you implement a policy that may very well lead to more off-campus drinking?” asked Justin Potter ’11. “Can you provide us with one statistic?”According to Murphy, the administration will enlist the help of the Cornell University Police Department and Ithaca Police Department to monitor off-campus areas. Apgar, Murphy and Hubbell did not elaborate on specific plans to partner with these police forces.“It’s not for me to decide your social life on Friday and Saturday night,” Murphy said. “Your insurance, though, won’t cover buying alcohol for underage students.”Hubbell also said that campus police would be far less busy without the Greek system.He stressed that the Residential Advisors and Residence Hall Directors provide supervision in dorms, while responsible alcohol distribution and safety at Slope Day has improved markedly. Students at the forum largely disagreed.“My R.A.s offered me coloring books, free breakfasts during study week and monopoly,” Conor Callahan ‘11, social chair of Sigma Alpha Mu, said. “The University should really be worried about pre-games with hard alcohol, before fraternity events, that happen in the dorms.”Other students supported Callahan’s claims, citing research done by a Cornell professor that supports fraternities as the safest place to consume alcohol.“You’re not going to stop underage drinking unless you put cameras in rooms and search bags,” Drew Weirman ‘12 said. “There’ll be more arrests, more hospitalizations and more dangerous drinking.”Chrissy Weiss, an advisor for the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, also asked whether the administration plans to use Greek advisers to mandate change.“We get most of our information from our presidents after Panhel meetings,” she said. “Are we going to be involved?”Apgar responded by stressing that live-in advisers are invaluable tools, which the tri-council leaders will help continue to include in the future.The proposed plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval in October. Before then, Apgar reiterated the importance of open forums and collaboration with the Greek and non-Greek community.“The numbers at the forum show how important both the Greek and Cornell experience is to you,” he said. “And they’re important to us.”

Original Author: Dan Robbins