January 23, 2011

Rush to Collegetown

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On the surface, efforts to make the first official night of Rush Week completely dry as part of the amendment to the University’s Recognition Policy could be considered a success. The Interfraternity Council reported that none of Cornell’s 39 fraternities were shut down for violating the ban that prohibited alcohol consumption at this designated “sober event,” and only one incurred punishment for having a cup that smelled of hard alcohol. However, as The Sun reported today, several houses have confirmed accounts of both rushes and brothers drinking at unregistered Collegetown annex parties and in the upstairs portions of frat houses. This presents a picture that is unsettlingly different from the one communicated by the IFC. This incongruity highlights a disconnect between the IFC and the fraternities over which it exercises its jurisdiction — one that must be examined if this plan will ever be successful. While the IFC should be commended for publicly sharing this information and attempting to enforce this “dry night” by hiring a Social Responsibility Committee, the organization must continue do its part to help implement these changes. This should include more careful observation of fraternity recruitment events in the future, as the IFC’s plan to phase out alcohol consumption during Rush Week requires three dry nights next year, with an entirely dry rush process scheduled for January 2013.

At the same time, the administration cannot be too quick to assume that the initial phase of its Greek reformation was a success and be lulled into a false sense of complacency. Reports of off-campus drinking substantiate the criticisms and concerns that were put forth in this space only three months ago — fraternity members found ways around the restriction by either directing rushes to their annexes, or otherwise enabling the consumption of alcohol in their own houses, out of sight of IFC representatives. With that sentiment in mind, the University must continue to make strides to ensure that its attempt to reform the Greek system is actually an attainable goal.

If the administration is serious about reforming the culture of the Greek system via their amendment, they must first acknowledge that drinking in a fraternity house is no different than drinking in a Collegetown residence — with the latter being arguably more dangerous due to the availability of hard alcohol and lack of regulations.

Secondly, the University must do its part to enforce this plan by increasing oversight of Rush Week events in Collegetown, and not simply taking the IFC’s reports at face value. Without follow-up and enforcement, the changes to the Recognition Policy are rendered defunct. By not realizing that violations occurred under the University’s watch and were perpetrated with full knowledge of the new rules on Greek life, the administration is failing to increase safety in the Greek system for its newest members. Failing to enforce their own legislation runs contradictory to the entire message promulgated by Day Hall. To combat this potential new danger, the University must understand the necessity for follow-up and off-campus oversight.

That said, the issue at hand runs deeper than simply cracking down on fraternity actions off-campus. If the administration truly wants to make good on its initiative to change the mentality of Rush Week, it must do so with input from those who know recruitment from the inside.

The University must solicit input from fraternity presidents, rush chairs and the executive board of the Interfraternity Council — a collaboration that was noticeably lacking when the plan was drafted. While the unilateral method in which these changes were made to begin with might suggest otherwise, no one knows the Cornell Greek system better than the brothers themselves.